Paris 1924 Olympic Retrospective: Century Edition

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr 

Or as Bon Jovi says: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Nearly 100 years to the day after the 1924 Olympic Games closed in Paris, they will commence yet again in the City of Lights. As we look back at the world that existed a hundred years ago, it is starkly apparent how much has changed as well as how much has remained the same.

Still reeling from the global impact of World War I, Paris served as the second post-war Olympics after the 1916 Games, set to be held in Berlin, were canceled. The return to the Olympics was in Antwerp in 1920. Four years later, Paris was a near return to normalcy in the city that hosted the Peace Conference where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.

In the aftermath of the Great War, five nations were banned from competing at the 1920 Games, and after Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey were welcomed back in 1924, Germany was still barred from competing on sport’s biggest stage.

Although not the same, 100 years later we’ll see two nation’s flags absent from the 2024 Games in Paris. Due to their collaboration in invading Ukraine in 2022, Russia and Belarus have been banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from competing under their national flags. However, Russian and Belarussian athletes can still compete as “Individual Neutral Athletes” (AIN).

The 1924 Olympics marked a first for many countries as the world adjusted to new borders and sovereign nations. Ecuador, Ireland, Lithuania, Uruguay, and China all participated in their first Olympic Games in Paris (though China only sent four athletes for tennis who all withdrew before the competition). The 1924 Games also marked the first Summer Olympic appearance for Latvia and Poland, which both made Olympic debuts at the Winter edition a few months earlier in Chamonix.

Just as countries have come and gone, the events that are contested during the games have undergone changes in the last century. While Polo has been removed from the Olympic lineup since 1924, many sports have been added including the most recent Surfing (which will take place in Tahiti, nearly 10,000 miles from Paris), Skateboarding, Climbing, and the debut of Breakdancing.

With 100 years of changing architecture, only 1 venue will be used again, Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir, where the track and field events were held in 1924, will be used as the stadium for field hockey this summer. And while many of the new constructions that were done for this year’s Games are temporary, the Aquatics Centre is the one only that will be permanent.

Comparison: By The Numbers

  Paris 1924 Paris 2024
Paris Population ~2,900,000 ~2,100,000
Athletes Participating 3089 10,500
Sports Contested 17 32
Events Contested 126 329
NOCs Participating 44 206
Spectators 625,000 ~3,000,000

 Full Medal Table:

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
USA 45 27 27 99
France 14 15 12 41
Finland 14 13 10 37
Great Britain 9 14 12 35
Sweden 4 13 12 29
Switzerland 7 8 10 25
Italy 8 3 5 16
Belgium 3 7 3 13
Netherlands 4 1 6 11
Denmark 2 6 3 11
Norway 5 2 3 10
Hungary 2 4 4 10
Czechoslovakia 1 4 5 10
Australia 3 1 2 6
Argentina 1 3 2 6
Estonia 1 1 4 6
Austria 3 1 4
Canada 3 1 4
South Africa 1 1 1 3
Yugoslavia 2 2
Luxembourg 1 1 2
Ireland 1 1 2
Poland 1 1 2
Greece 1 1
Uruguay 1 1
Haiti 1 1
Japan 1 1
Monaco 1 1
New Zealand 1 1
Portugal 1 1
Romania 1 1

Swimming

Swimming has undergone major transformations in the last 100 years to the point of nearing the perceived limit of human capabilities. It has been one of the 4 staple events contested in every modern Olympic Games since 1896 (along with Athletics, Gymnastics, and Fencing), and as such can be analyzed on a longer trajectory than most other events.

Looking back on the times from 1924, it is clear to see at a glance how far the sport has progressed. Many of the times that earned a gold medal 100 years ago now would be hardly notable for the 13-14 age group.

Winning Times 1924

Event Men Women
100 Freestyle 59.0 (Johnny Weissmuller – USA) 1:12.4 (Ethel Lackie – USA)
400 Freestyle 5:04.2 (Johnny Weissmuller – USA) 6:02.2 (Martha Norelius – USA)
1500 Freestyle (M) 20:06.6 (Andrew Murray Charlton – AUS)
100 Backstroke 1:13.2 (Warren Paoa Kealoha – USA) 1:23.2 (Sybil Bauer – USA)
200 Breaststroke 2:56.6 (Robert Skelton – USA) 3:33.2 (Lucille Morton – GBR)
4×100 Freestyle Relay (W) 4:58.8 (USA – WR)
4×200 Freestyle Relay (M) 9:53.4 (USA)

In addition to the times making great leaps forward, the number of events has grown and is now reaching near maximum capacity—just missing the addition of the 50s for each stroke which are already contested at the World Championship level. 

While there is a lot of star power coming to the pool and all other events this summer, there is one name from 1924 that rises above all others—Johnny Weissmuller. After getting his start in water polo, Weissmuller began competitive swimming in 1921 and 3 years later was a 3-time Olympic Champion as well as a member of the bronze medal USA water polo team in Paris.

 He would go on to win 2 more swimming gold medals in the 100 Freestyle and 4×200 Freestyle Relay in Amsterdam in 1928. Four years later, as the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics rolled around, Weissmuller would be in the City of Angels, but rather than competing for gold, he was starring as Tarzan in Tarzan the Ape Man in which he recorded his iconic yell.

While we will see some amazing athletes, there are few that can be expected to make the leap from competitive sport to TV or film. (With the debatable exception of Lebron James and his role in Space Jam 2).

Conclusion

Many people will argue that beyond the individual wills and accomplishments, the most beautiful moments in sports, are those when athletes come together and compete for something larger than their own goals. The Olympic Games have long been a tradition that unifies countries in a way that very few things can. While at times it can feel like there is a growing divide among ourselves and our neighbors, the Olympic Games always serve as a reminder of what striving to accomplish things as a collective rather than an individual can create.

So as we take a look back and appreciate how far we have come in the last century, we can look forward with the knowledge that while many things will change, these moments that bring joy and unity are those that endure the test of time.

Extra Comparisons:

  Paris 1924 Paris 2024
World Population ~1.8 billion ~8.1 billion
Top Selling Record of the Year “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo” – Wendell Hall “The Tortured Poets Department” – Taylor Swift
Top Grossing Movie The Sea Hawk Inside Out 2
Cost of Olympic Ticket ~10 Francs^ ($0.50 at the time, $9 adjusted for inflation) €24-190 ($26 – 205)
Cost of a Movie Ticket $0.25 $10.80
Cost of a Baseball Game $1.00 $37

^Estimated based on total revenues and spectator figures

Sources:

 

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Joel
8 days ago

Interesting population of Paris comparison.

MIKE IN DALLAS
8 days ago

My grandfather fought for the US in WWI as a Doughboy in France. It was a terrible experience for him, although he came home without a scratch. But, he returned to France as a tourist to see the Paris 2024 Olympics. Not being a swimmer, but having heard of Weissmuller, he went to see him swim – and win. Ironically, although he saw several Americans win gold medals in different sports, the only race he ever talked about with his grandchildren were the ones with Weissmuller. I’m 70 now, and I think back over my grandfather’s memories and can still see a century of Olympic glory!

River Seine
8 days ago

Very interesting!

About Aidan Burns

Aidan Burns

Aidan Burns was born Sept. 17 1997 in Saratoga, Calif. to mother Anne Griswold. The freestyle and medley specialist chose to swim for the University of Georgia where he is currently a sophomore majoring in Biochemistry. Back in California, he swims under head coach John Bitter for the Santa Clara Swim …

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