Stockholm Hosts the Summer Olympics Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

During the Games of the Fifth Olympiad, competitors from five continents took part in more than one hundred events in fourteen sports. These Olympic Games introduced important technological innovations and produced several of the most memorable athletic performances in the history of the Summer Olympics.

Summary of Event

The Games of the Fifth Olympiad moved the quadrennial competition to Scandinavia for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games. Up to that point, the Games had attracted little attention, and their future was uncertain. The previous Olympics, held in London in 1908, had created almost as much controversy as goodwill. An interim competition, called the Intercalated Games, Intercalated Games held in Greece on the two-year cycle between each Olympics, had helped the Games survive between 1904 and 1908, but this system was canceled in 1910. Under the leadership of Viktor Balck, the 1912 Games were expertly organized, and they inspired some of the Olympics’ most memorable athletic performances. Olympic Games;Stockholm (1912) Summer Olympic Games;Stockholm (1912) Sports;Olympic Games [kw]Stockholm Hosts the Summer Olympics (May 5-July 27, 1912) [kw]Summer Olympics, Stockholm Hosts the (May 5-July 27, 1912) [kw]Olympics, Stockholm Hosts the Summer (May 5-July 27, 1912) Olympic Games;Stockholm (1912) Summer Olympic Games;Stockholm (1912) Sports;Olympic Games [g]Sweden;May 5-July 27, 1912: Stockholm Hosts the Summer Olympics[03090] [c]Sports;May 5-July 27, 1912: Stockholm Hosts the Summer Olympics[03090] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;May 5-July 27, 1912: Stockholm Hosts the Summer Olympics[03090] Balck, Viktor Thorpe, Jim Kolehmainen, Hannes McGrath, Matthew J. Kahanamoku, Duke Craig, Ralph Gustav V

The 1912 Olympic Games introduced several technological innovations to the competitions’ judging. A semiautomatic electrical timing device permitted more accurate scoring of timed events, and a photo-finish camera allowed judges to take a closer and more authoritative look at extremely tight finishes. In addition, the introduction of a public-address system allowed spectators to identify the athletes they were watching and to keep up with the events themselves.

The Stockholm Games also introduced new sports to the Olympic lineup. One of these was the decathlon, a competition consisting of the best total performance in ten diverse track-and-field events. Another was the modern pentathlon, a grouping of five events that mirrored the skills required of a soldier: shooting, horseback riding, fencing, running, and swimming. Sweden would not permit boxing contests to be held in the country, and after the 1912 Games the International Olympic Committee decided to limit the discretion that host nations enjoyed in deciding which sports to include on the Olympic program.

The Games of the Fifth Olympiad produced several extraordinary athletic performances. The dominance of Jim Thorpe, a Native American who won both the decathlon and the pentathlon by huge margins and set world records in both, was so awe-inspiring that King Gustav V of Sweden called Thorpe to his box and proclaimed him the greatest athlete in the world. The decathlon’s ten events included sprints, distance running, pole vaulting, high jump, shot put, long jump, and javelin, and the ancient pentathlon included five of these events, so Thorpe’s ability to outperform the world’s best athletes in such a wide spectrum of events was truly remarkable. His celebration was short-lived, however. The following year, Thorpe was discovered to have been paid modest amounts for playing semiprofessional baseball prior to the Olympics, and under the strict rules that existed at the time, he was stripped of his medals and his name was erased from the list of Olympic champions.

Thorpe’s dominance in a particular competition was echoed by several other athletes at Stockholm. An American policeman named Matthew J. McGrath outdistanced the entire field of competitors in the hammer throw with all six of his attempts, the longest of which stood as a world record for twenty-four years. Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian swimmer whose name would later become synonymous with surfing, was so far ahead of the field in the 100-meter freestyle at the halfway point that he looked back to survey the field and still won by two meters. Another American, Ralph Craig, won the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and also the 100-meter final. The last of these races began only after seven false starts, including one in which Craig ran the entire distance before being recalled. A twenty-two-year-old Finnish runner named Hannes Kolehmainen dominated three long-distance events being run for the first time at Stockholm: the 5,000-meter run, in which he set a new world record, the 10,000-meter run, and the 12,000-meter cross-country run.

By contrast, the Greco-Roman wrestling semifinal brought together two competitors so equally matched—Russia’s Martin Klein and Finland’s Alfred Asikainen—that their bout lasted eleven hours. Great endurance was also evident in the cycling competition: The course for the road race ran almost two hundred miles, making it the longest race of any kind in Olympic history. Although the Games featured relatively few team competitions, the tug-of-war made one of its few appearances during the 1912 Summer Games.

The Stockholm Games were characterized by a few other strange occurrences, some of which blurred the line between competition and administration. Otto Herschmann, Herschmann, Otto a member of the Austrian saber-fencing team that won the silver medal, was also president of the Austrian Olympic Committee, making him the only sitting national Olympic committee president to win an Olympic medal. Pierre de Coubertin, Coubertin, Pierre de the man credited with reviving the Olympic movement in 1896, won a literary prize in the sports literature competition under an assumed name—Georges Hohrod and M. Eschbach—for his “Ode to Sport,” a nine-part encomium that attempted to merge sport and literature.


Prior to the Olympic Games held in Stockholm in 1912, the Olympics had been marred by problems: Relatively few national teams participated, political fighting among nations over issues such as national flags and ceremonial honors was common, and accusations of cheating were made by both judges and athletes. After political unrest led to the cancellation of the Intercalated Games in 1910, the future of the Olympic movement seemed dim, and without the success of the 1912 Summer Games, the Olympics might not have survived the interruption in 1916 caused by World War I.

Instead, the extraordinary success of the Stockholm Games left the participants buoyed by excitement over the Olympics’ future. Although the number of sports in which athletes could compete dropped from twenty-two to fourteen from 1908 to 1912—most of the those dropped were team sports popular in England, which hosted the 1908 Games—the number of nations sending athletes grew from twenty-two to twenty-eight, and the number of athletes participating grew by almost 400, from 2,008 to 2,407. In addition, Japan’s participation made the Stockholm Games the first to include nations from five continents. On the field of competition, extraordinary performances by Jim Thorpe, Hannes Kolehmainen, Matthew J. McGrath, Ralph Craig, Duke Kahanamoku, and others amazed spectators and left participants certain that the Games were attracting the best athletes in the world. The result of this confluence of enthusiasm and excellence allowed the Games to return in 1920 with even more nations, more athletes, and more events, even after the interruption in 1916 and the lingering ill will created by World War I. Olympic Games;Stockholm (1912) Summer Olympic Games;Stockholm (1912) Sports;Olympic Games

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crawford, Bill. All American: The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. A highly accurate and sympathetic examination of Thorpe’s difficulties at the Stockholm Games, emphasizing the inequities by which rules of amateurism were enforced.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hall, Sandra Kimberly. Duke: A Great Hawaiian. Honolulu: Bess Press, 2004. Well-written brief but detailed biography of the Olympic swimmer and father of surfing, with an exhaustive account of Kahanamoku’s Olympic experiences and the obstacles created by his Hawaiian heritage.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schaffer, Kay, and Sidonie Smith, eds. The Olympics at the Millennium: Power Politics and the Games. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2000. An examination of the influence of Olympic politics on specific events in Olympic history, including an exploration of Jim Thorpe’s experience of losing his medals after the Stockholm Games.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallechinsky, David. The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics: Athens 2004 Edition. Toronto: SportClassic Books, 2004. Exhaustive reference work provides descriptions and histories of each of the events in the Summer Olympic Games along with complete lists of winners for each event throughout Olympic history.

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