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Any analysis of sport and sporting competitions must inevitably take into account the historical events which underpin them. For sports researchers, the British Library has an unrivalled collection of resources covering all aspects of the subject, in print and in other media, from books describing great sporting occasions to published biographies and autobiographies of amateur and elite athletes; coaching manuals; sport yearbooks and annual reports; directories; sports periodicals; and oral history interviews with Olympians and Paralympians. These materials cover a long period of sporting activity and sporting events both in Great Britain and elsewhere in the world. The legacy of the Games – invoked by commentators - can therefore also be interpreted in terms of what has been passed on to us over the centuries by the predecessors of the mega event; the early practitioners and organisers of different kinds of sport, and by those who codified the rules of these sports. On these pages we take a look at the history of sporting activity and the ways in which the past has fed into the phenomena of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sports history in the British Library

early swimming manual 10KB]

The United Kingdom can proudly claim to be the original home of a number of the sports that we now associate with the Olympic Games, as well as having had a pioneering role in drawing up sporting rules and regulations. Using the British Library archive collections, we look at the antecedents of some of those sports and see how they have been described by contemporary observers.

Contemporary publications from the Berlin Olympiad of 1936

Olympics stamp 1936[10KB]

Susan Reed, the British Library’s lead curator for German studies, writes about two recently acquired titles which were published in Germany on the occasion of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. She discusses their political context, and provides a bibliography of relevant materials for further research into this controversial Games.

William Penny Brookes & the Much Wenlock games

house in Much Wenlock[10KB]

The small Shropshire town of Much Wenlock has closer links than most to the modern Olympic Games. Steph Doehler, who has just completed her MA at De Montfort University, investigates the legacy of Dr William Penny Brookes.

A Historian in trainers: researching and contesting the Cotswold Olimpicks and the Much Wenlock Games

detail Olympics stamp 1916[10KB]

Dr Martin Polley of Southampton University looks at the local factors influencing the British 'Olympic' festivals which predated the de Coubertin Games, and recounts his own experiences as a competitor.

Listen to the Olympians and Paralympians

flying athlete[10KB]

Among the oral history collections held at the British Library are a number of interviews with athletes. These are now available online for everyone to listen to.