This Day in History (19-Aug-1900) – Start of the one & only Olympic cricket match, in Paris

Cricket was also originally scheduled as an Olympic sport in 1896. Owing to insufficient entries, what would have been the only team sport at the first Modern Olympics was not held. Originally, teams representing Belgium, France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands were scheduled to compete in the 1900 tournament. Belgium and the Netherlands pulled out of the competition, leaving Great Britain to play France. In keeping with the informal nature of the Paris Games, two teams were enough to make an Olympic competition, which remains unique in Olympic history. The game was played at the Municipal Velodrome de Vincennes, which is still in use today, and the banked cycling track formed an unusual boundary for the cricket pitch.

France, the hosts, drew the team from just two clubs: the now defunct Union Club and the Standard Athletic Club which had been formed in 1890 by English workmen imported to construct the Eiffel Tower. Majority of the “French” team were, in fact, English expatriates. The visitors were the “Devon & Somerset Wanderers Cricket Club” a well established touring side. The match was originally arranged with the usual eleven players in each team but, an additional player was brought into each team at the last minute. Although the game was essentially between two club sides, posters and handbills give the occasion a flavor by announcing that it was a match between France and England.

The visitors were all out for 117 runs. The host team replied with a score of 78. With an overnight lead of 39 the “Wanderers” gave a vastly improved batting display in the second innings and declared their innings closed at 145 runs for 5 wickets. Needing 185 runs to win, the French batting completely fell apart in the second innings. “Wanderers” finally won by 158 runs with five minutes to spare. The Great Britain team was awarded silver medals and the French team bronze medals. The match was formally recognised as being an Olympic contest in 1912, and the medals were later reassigned as gold and silver.



This Day in History (31-Mar-1889) – The Eiffel Tower Opens

The committee, set up to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution in 1889, announced a contest to design and build a monument to the revolution. After a six-week competition, Gustave Eiffel’s design was announced as the winner. When plans were first unveiled based on Eiffel’s concept, the design was severely criticized by intellectuals and artists, calling the design a disgraceful skeleton . . . “a gigantic factory chimney whose form will disfigure the architectural harmony of the city.”

The Eiffel Tower rose at a rate of almost two feet per day, an astounding fact considering 18,038 pieces of iron were fitted together with 2.5 million rivets by more than 100 workmen who functioned almost like acrobats and stuntmen. Not one man lost his life during the construction. On March 31, 1889, just days after the final piece of the tower was put in place, Eiffel proudly led a number of government officials and journalists at the 980-foot-high upper level and unfurled the French flag to a 25-gun salute commemorating the completion of the tallest structure in the world at the time. When the tower opened to the public in May, 1889, it was an instant success. Eiffel was able to reimburse his creditors within one year, just through the admission ticket receipts from the 1,868,000 visitors.  The “Iron Lady” — the tallest manmade object on the planet for more than four decades — has had more than 250 million visitors since.

Twenty years later, however, the lease for the land expired, and Eiffel lost control of his tower to the City of Paris. The land was too valuable for such a frivolous structure, according to city council, and plans were made to turn the tower into scrap metal. Fortunately for the Eiffel Tower, the First World War came along, and the tower was transformed into a military radio and telegraph centre. Its lease was renewed for another 70 years, and the tourists continued to flock to the structure. While the Germans occupied Paris during World War II, legend has it Adolf Hitler refused to make the climb to the top, leaving some to say he “conquered France, but the Eiffel Tower conquered him.” With the Allies approaching in August 1944, Der Fuhrer ordered the landmark destroyed in order to damage French morale but General Dietrich von Choltitz — thankfully — ignored the Nazi leader.