Chinese museum exhibits photos of first modern Olympic Games
Published: Oct 27, 2021 10:03 PM
Photos about the first Olympic Games are on display at the exhibition. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Photos about the first Olympic Games are on display at the exhibition. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Did you know that the first winner of the marathon event at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 was actually a water carrier? That the bicycle event ran for 12 hours? And that, except for the fencers, these athletes were amateurs instead of professionals? These interesting tidbits and others like them can be found at a new exhibition at the China World Art Museum in Beijing.

Over 20 precious pictures that record the first Olympic Games have traveled thousands of kilometers from Athens to Beijing as part of the Charming Ice and Snow: the Culture of Winter Olympics of Beijing 2022 Photography Exhibition, which is counting down the remaining 100 days to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. 

Greek Ambassador to China Georgios Iliopoulos Photo: Li Hao/GT

Greek Ambassador to China Georgios Iliopoulos Photo: Li Hao/GT

"These rare photos from the Benaki Museum taken by photo-journalist Albert Meyer and collected in his album Olympic Games 1896 are very timely and of great significance," Greek Ambassador to China Georgios Iliopoulos told the Global Times at the opening on Wednesday. 

"These artistically pioneering photos convey to us a unique sense or feeling of the Greek Light that is captured in them. The same Light, from Ancient Olympia, was lit in Greece just 10 days ago, and was handed to the BOCOG [the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games], signaling the beginning of the Beijing Winter Games, to which I wholeheartedly wish, again, great success."

Spirit of 1896 According to China World Art museum curator Wang Zhaoyi, Meyer's photos of the 1896 Olympic Games bore witness to a breakthrough in the history of sporting events: "The revival of this ancient tradition transformed international sport meets into the global events we know today."

The 25 rather Spartan photographs in his album chronicled the Games, documenting both the athletic rituals and labors of the participants. The photos include subjects and events such as the International Olympic Committee, the main Greek benefactor of the Games Georgios Averof, the Athens Philharmonic Orchestra performing at the Opening Ceremony as well as various athletes, including the "water carrier" Spyros Louis, who posed for Meyer while wearing traditional Greek clothing after winning the First Marathon. 

The album became the official keepsake of the Games reserved for only a few members of the International Olympic Committee and the royal courts of the participating countries. However, the photography studio and Meyer's archive was destroyed in 1945 due to World War II, turning the original photographs into rare and priceless artifacts. Only one of the rare leather albums remained and was donated to the Historical Archives of the Benaki Museum as a unique token to both history and art.

As precious as these photos are, the opportunity for China and Greece to grow closer relations through this exhibition is even more precious. Ioannis Chryssoulakis, secretary general of Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy, which sponsored the exhibition, said in a pre-recorded video, "This exhibition, opening just a few days after the Winter Olympics Torch Lighting Ceremony in Ancient Olympia, will inspire all visitors and will help our Chinese friends to better understand the cultural wealth of Greece, where all began." 

The exhibition also includes two other sections Technology Highlights, the Beauty of Ice and Snow Sports and The 70-year History of Ice and Snow Sports in China. 

Both sections feature photos showing China's long tradition of winter sports and achievements in professional winter events from hundreds of sports photographers, photo editors and technicians over the years.

Lead up to the Games Both the ambassador and Chryssoulakis said that they are "looking forward to the Games." 

"Despite the fact that there were many adjustments in the preparations due to the pandemic, the venues are ready for the Games. Everything is in place for the Games," the ambassador told the Global Times. 

"The Olympic Games are not just about venues, technical arrangements and material preparation! We must not forget that the modern Olympics and the Olympic Movement derive from the noble ideas and culture of Ancient Greece, possibly the only civilization in ancient times that prioritized the idea of noble competition, fairness and the spirit of excellence through sports, through the Olympic Games."

Beside the exhibitions, China also hosts a series of celebration activities including special TV programs, cultural events and talk shows on state TV and China's streaming platforms. Themed with Snow Hearts Gathering Toward the Future, China's media giant Tencent not only launched a series of live cast events to popularize winter sports' knowledge, but also planned to produce street interviews of foreign expats living in China on the Beijing Winter Games topics.