Rural English town revels in being Olympic birthplace

Thu Jul 12, 2012 12:03pm EDT
 
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By Belinda Goldsmith

MUCH WENLOCK, England (Reuters) - A medieval town in rural England is reveling in the Olympics as a long-forgotten story about how this remote community inspired the modern Games receives global recognition -- and could possibly put Much Wenlock on the tourist map.

Although Athens is usually cited as the birthplace of the modern Games, that honor lies with Much Wenlock, a picture perfect 700-year-old English town in the county of Shropshire that boasts winding streets, traditional white-and-black timber beamed houses, limestone cottages and even an Abbey ruin.

The link dates back to William Penny Brookes, a doctor in the town 125 miles northwest of London, who believed in the benefits of physical exercise for "every grade of man".

In 1850, before the game of lawn tennis was invented or athletics introduced at Oxford and Cambridge universities, Brookes set up the annual Wenlock Olympian Games featuring football, running and hopping.

This innovative multi-sports event, featuring men of all classes, expanded nationally with the first National Olympian Games held in London in 1866 with more to follow before a rival group took the idea to London and the event returned to Wenlock.

Brookes made his mark on history in 1890 when French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, visited Much Wenlock to discuss the doctor's ethos of fair play in sport and the need to be healthy in body and mind.

His influence on de Coubertin inspired the revival of the modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 with the London Olympic organizers, LOCOG, acknowledging Brookes' important role by naming the official 2012 Olympics mascot Wenlock.

"It is surprising really that few people in Britain were aware of this link. It really had become a forgotten story," said Tim King, Tourism Officer for Shropshire Council, as the 126th Wenlock Olympian Games got underway this week.   Continued...

 
The Olympic torch passes the birthplace of William Penny Brookes the founding father of the modern Olympics in Much Wenlock, central England, May 30, 2012. A medieval town in rural England is revelling in the Olympics as a long-forgotten story about how this remote community inspired the modern Games finally receives global recognition -- and could possibly put Much Wenlock on the tourist map. Although Athens is usually cited as the birthplace of the modern Games, that honour lies with Much Wenlock, a picture perfect 700-year-old English town in the county of Shropshire that boasts winding streets, traditional white-and-black timber beamed houses, limestone cottages, and even an Abbey ruin. REUTERS/Darren Staples/files