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From Athens with Pride: 120 years of Olympic History unveiled

9 May 2014

AOC: Australian athletes and administrators have played a pivotal role in the Olympic Movement for 120 years.

Over this period Australian Olympians have become household names around the world and their heroics are amongst the greatest memories of a sports loving nation. Australia has also hosted the Games twice in Melbourne in 1956 and Sydney 2000.

Australian historian and award winning writer Harry Gordon CMG AM has managed to capture with wit and wisdom the emotion of the wins and losses, and the commitment of our athletes to be the best in their chosen sport over this period in his latest book, From Athens With Pride, launched in Sydney today.

GALLERY: See images from the Book Launch here, courtesy of Getty Images

Over 300 pages of Gordon’s magic words are complemented with beautiful imagery from 1896 to 2014. The title of this book reflects, so accurately, the history of the Australian Olympic movement.

AOC President John Coates asked Gordon in 2012: ‘it’s about time we have an update of your 1994 Olympic history book mate, isn’t it?’

The project was soon underway. All previous chapters have been updated and there is a totally fresh contemporary design. Those magic moments and controversies since 1994 have all been captured, concluding with the Sochi Games in Russia.

Coates, who is also now the IOC Vice President, paid tribute to Gordon for the remarkable work done during the 18 month project and years and years of research.

“The book tells the stories of all our superheroes and all the Olympians,” Coates said.

“He explains the culture behind these Olympians and it’s going to be important for us as Olympians from the past, to pass the baton to future Olympians. This is a book that they can reflect on.”

Coates also spoke of the defining moments for Olympic fans in Australia and the AOC, written about in From Athens With Pride.

“It’s important for the Australian Olympic Committee because it chronicles the two great events in our history. And that is hosting the Games in Melbourne and in Sydney.

“It also tells the story of the defining event, so far as I am concerned, in the history of the Olympic Committee here, and that is the rejection of the Governments request that we boycott the Moscow Games, which established once and forever that we are a National Olympic Committee that is independent of Government- and that’s been so important!”

Coates also joked about the ‘salacious gossip’ that is contained in the Afterword chapter which discusses the sometimes tumultuous relationship between Coates and former IOC members Kevan Gosper and Phil Coles.

“It had to be said and it’s a good read Harry. I thank you very much.”

At the book launch in Sydney attended by Olympians, media, friends and the AOC Executive Gordon reflected on how rewarding his Olympic journey, which started at the 1952 Helsinki Games, had been.

“Being here today in this company and a room of people like this reminds me of how rich and rewarding and fortunate a life I’ve had in terms of making lifelong friendships and watching breathtaking performances,” Gordon said.

“The history of the Australian Olympic movement should make us all proud. It certainly should be known to more aspiring athletes and I believe it should be taught in schools. My book pays tribute to the Olympic pioneers.”

Gordon also spoke of how the Olympic movement has changed since the original founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin who was against professionalism and women competing in sport. How times have changed!

Rome 1960 Olympic 1500m champion Herb Elliott launched the book. He told how the pair had become great friends but he knew of Harry before they met. He read an article that Gordon had written when he was a newspaper editor in Melbourne, which was an open letter to the great miler John Landy after he stopped to help Ron Clarke at the National Championships.

Elliot said at the time of reading he ‘fell in love with the simple eloquent language. He then explained how nothing has changed in the decades since then and Gordon’s 16th book From Athens With Pride.

“Once you pick that book up and open a page, you’re engrossed and you’re wrapped and you just can’t put it down,” Elliot said.

“It’s beautifully written and Harry shows us the Olympic Games through the eyes of the participants, the human experience of being in the Olympic Games. Because every Olympian does have a story and every paragraph in this book could have been a chapter.”

Edwin Flack’s double athletics gold in the marble stadium in Athens in 1896 started the enviable run of having Australian athletes in every Summer Games. Remarkably Australia has been represented at all but four Winter Games in the modern era since 1924 and reaching the podium 12 times across the past five Games.

On top of this, Australia has hosted the Games in Melbourne in 1956, Sydney in 2000 and had administrators in prominent roles on the International Olympic Committee.

Australia’s involvement started at a congress in Paris in 1894, which ended up creating the modern Olympic Games, has continued through to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

One absorbing feature of this book is a complete list of all the Olympians who have represented Australia at both Summer and Winter Olympics, from Athens 1896 to Sochi 2014, and all those who have contributed to the nation’s total of 495 gold, silver and bronze medals.

From Athens with Pride is a masterful book, full of tales of persistence, personal strength and above all, courage to win an Olympic medal for Australia. The Foreword is written by Lord Sebastian Coe who was an Olympic Champion, mastermind of the London 2012 Games and always a big fan of Australian Olympic Teams.

The inspirational book was beautifully published by Custom Publishing, University of Queensland Press and will be available in stores in a shortly.

Andrew Reid
AOC