The tragic upheaval of World War I postponed the 1916 Games that had been scheduled to be held in Berlin. The 1920 Games were awarded to Antwerp, in part to honour the suffering that had been inflicted on the Belgian people during the war.
Despite persistent rain, the traumatic toll of war, and the exclusion of the Allies’ vanquished enemies - Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey - the Antwerp Games served to revive the Olympics after eight long years.
The Antwerp Games were built on the themes of peace and harmony. The Opening Ceremony was notable for the introduction of the Olympic flag (designed in 1913) and the Olympic Oath (or Athletes’ Oath). Belgian Victor Boin, a former water polo medallist who would win a fencing medal at the Games, became the first person to read the oath on behalf of the competitors during the Opening Ceremony. In the wake of the war, conditions for athletes were sometimes lacking, but earnest organisers and the hearty spirit of the local community ensured a good atmosphere for competition.
The American team dominated, winning 95 medals, including 41 gold – more than double the gold medal total of the second-placed team, Sweden. The US women’s swimming team, led by triple gold medallist Ethelda Bleibtrey, swept all six events. Shooter Willis Lee was also outstanding, winning five gold, a silver and a bronze.
Italy’s Nedo Nadi was the non-American star of the Games, winning gold medals in five of the six fencing events in a performance unequaled in Olympic history. His younger brother, Aldo, also won three gold medals in fencing. The brothers are regarded among the legends of the sport.
Another strong performer was Albert Hill of Great Britain, who won the 800m and 1500m double on the track. It would be 44 years until this performance was repeated by New Zealand’s Peter Snell at the Tokyo Olympics.