The Bizarre Inclusion Of Glíma In 1912 Olympics - The Reykjavik Grapevine

The Bizarre Inclusion Of Glíma In 1912 Olympics

Published October 28, 2014

And "The Silliest Decision" In Icelandic Sports History Eight Years Later

Haukur Már Helgason
Photo by
1912 Olympics In Stockholm, from Historiska.se

And "The Silliest Decision" In Icelandic Sports History Eight Years Later

“Among the wonders of Icelandic sports history is how we managed to convince the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm to count glíma, Icelandic wrestling, among full-fledged Olympic sport,” said historian Stefan Palsson on radio RUV on Monday.

“Olympic sports have usually served a double purpose,” Stefan explained. “First of all these have been sports that could be supposed to attract viewers and thereby ticket sales. On the other hand sports that have been popular locally around the site of each olympics.” Why the Swedes consented to counting glíma among those, and how anyone was convinced to count it among permanent olympic sports, is beyond explanation, says Stefan.

Stranger still, however, according to the historian, is how Icelanders blew it.

The Stockholm Olympics were held in 1912, including glíma. Then came the war, postponing the Olympics for eight years. At their revival, the Olympic committee planned to fulfill the promise and include glíma at the Olympics in Antwerpen 1920. “The figureheads in Icelandic sports made perhaps their silliest decision ever. When the participation of Icelandic glíma-wrestlers had been secured, news were received that the Danish king planned to visit Iceland that same summer. The sports leadership decided that it was more important to offer the king a spectacle of the best wrestlers, as if he could possibly notice the difference. They cancelled their participation in the Olympics, which never again uttered a word about including this peculiar sport of men wearing tights and belts. Eventually, the king postponed his journey and did not visit Iceland until a year later.”

Glíma counts as a “martial arts system”, said to originate among vikings around the time when Iceland was settled. You can see the sport practiced in Grimur Hakonarson’s 2007 short film, Braedrabylta, trailer below:

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