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If you thought Greece was the home of the Olympic Games, think again. The world’s biggest and most popular sports festival may have, conceptually, been born in the Valley of Olympia, but it was nurtured and brought back to life in Much Wenlock, a small town in Shropshire, England.

With roots that can be traced to the Roman occupation in 1 AD, Much Wenlock is a quintessential mediaeval English town, so richly steeped in tradition and history that, according to author Mary Webb, “somewhere in the Middle Ages, it had fallen asleep.” It is home to some glorious architectural wonders including the ruins of the famous Wenlock Priory, the sacred spring and the majestic Guildhall – a half-timbered Tudor building.

But for the sports enthusiast, Much Wenlock’s biggest claim to fame is that it is the home of the modern Olympic Games, a title it owes to its most illustrious resident, Dr William Penny Brookes. Deeply inspired by the Greek ideals of democracy and equality, Dr Brookes initiated a tournament called the Wenlock Olympian Games in 1850.

Unlike other tournaments which were restricted to the rich, the Wenlock Olympian Games were open to people from all walks of life. Encouraged by the success of the Wenlock Olympian Games, which were soon attracting competitors from all over the country, Dr Brookes set up the National Olympic Association in 1865 which organised the first National Olympic Games in London a year later.

Dr Brookes introduced Baron de Coubertin, a French educationist and historian, to the games at Much Wenlock, which inspired Coubertin, who is considered to be “the father of the modern Olympics”, to become the driving force behind the Olympic Games as we know them, the first of which were held in Athens in 1896.
This year, as a tribute to the Wenlock Olympian Games, one of the two mascots for the London 2012 Summer Olympics has been named Wenlock.

– Shagufta Naaz

First published in the Adbuzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on July 22, 2012.