The beacon for modern mass media sports

The Summer Games a hundred years ago provided material for cinematic dramas and heroic stories. The real sensation: the football tournament with the triumph of the Uruguayans and the famous Swiss national team.

“Les Jeux Olympiques” were a gift to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the inventor of the modern Olympic Games – this contemporary tennis postcard promoted the occasion.


He dreamed of Paris, of the 1924 Olympic Games. He really wanted to run there with the best in the world. But the rector of the Burgdorf technical center refused to allow 21-year-old student Willy Schärer to take vacation. It was only the power of the Bern government councilor Tschudi that enabled Schärer to take part and surprisingly win the silver medal in the 1500 meter race. And the country was overwhelmed with enthusiasm when the famous Swiss national football team stormed into the Olympic final against Uruguay in faraway Paris and won the unofficial European championship title.

Faster, higher, stronger – and the Olympic slogan was significantly expanded in Paris: more popular. The events moved closer to the audience. The Radio Paris reporter reported live for the first time from a balloon basket above the Colombes stadium.

The Summer Olympics, which began on May 4, 1924 in the French metropolis, were the beacon for modern mass media sports and provided material for cinematic dramas and heroic stories. They were sparked by the “Roaring Twenties,” a time of optimism and joy of life. The first Winter Olympics took place in Chamonix at the beginning of the year. The Great Nation was the hub of the sports world.

“Les Jeux Olympiques” were a gift to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the inventor of the modern Olympic Games. All other candidate cities had withdrawn their application for the 1924 Games out of respect for him. Germany remained exiled because of war guilt, and the Soviet Union was not a member of the International Olympic Committee in the year Lenin died. China had only registered four tennis players, but they left again, and British India was still a colony. Of the 3,072 participants, there were only 135 women, four of whom came from Switzerland.

Joseph Imbach runs a world record in the 400 m semi-final – and vomits in the final

The memory of Paris in 1924 was awakened generations later by the successful film “Chariots of Fire” (in German: “The Hour of the Victor”). It won four Oscars in 1981 and romanticized the friendship and rivalry of British runners Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. Abrahams is a Jewish student at Cambridge who won the gold medal in the 100-meter sprint. The Scot Liddell, winner of the 400 meters in a world record time of 47.6 seconds, later became a Christian missionary like his parents. He is a natural talent and also plays for the Scottish rugby team. Liddell was born in Tianjin, China, where he later returned. He was captured in the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1943 and died of a brain tumor in 1945 – at the age of only 43.

A world record has already been set in the 400 m semi-final by a Swiss man. “Vive Imbach, vive la Suisse!” shouted the crowd in the Colombes stadium, as the trade journal “Sport” reported back home. Joseph Imbach covered the 400 meters, which took place on an unfamiliar 500-meter track, in 48.0 seconds. But in the final 20 hours later he vomited, began to stagger strangely, stumbled, fell and, as if in a trance, dragged himself across the finish line in last place. He explained his desolate condition with a spoiled omelette.

In retrospect, Imbach appears to be an unrecognized superstar of Swiss sport – and its worst unlucky person. The mechanic’s apprentice first rode and won bicycle races, but Imbach preferred playing football, as a striker with Kickers Luzern in what was then known as Serie A, the highest Swiss league. He discovered the ease of running, immediately became Swiss champion over 800 and 1500 meters, but also tried his hand as a sprinter and reduced the national record over 100 meters to 10.6 seconds, which at the time equaled the world record. Imbach died forgotten and impoverished at the age of 62 in Geneva, where he had last repaired bicycles.

The British Douglas Lowe (center) wins the 800 m final at the 1924 Olympic Games in world record time. Next to him is the Swiss doctor and globetrotter Paul Martin.


Two other Swiss runners had their finest hour in Paris: Paul Martin, a doctor from Lausanne, and Willy Schärer, the aforementioned truant with the highest permit, won silver medals. Martin approached the 800 meters a little too cautiously; at the finish he was barely a step behind the British winner Douglas Lowe. Lowe later became a judge at the Crown Court, Britain’s highest criminal court; Martin was a globetrotter who took part in five Olympic Games between 1920 and 1936, but also a successful surgeon with a worldwide reputation in the field of bone transplantation.

The Finn Paavo Nurmi (front) ran world records in a row for a decade – in Paris in 1924 he triumphed over 1500, 3000 and 5000 meters, among others.


Eduard Wilhelm “Willy” Schärer, whom no one had known before, dived into the gap on the home straight in the 1500 meter final that the Finn Paavo Nurmi had opened. Nurmi ran world records in a row for a decade, often with a stopwatch in hand for self-control. In Paris alone he won five gold medals, including the team competitions. Nurmi’s career ended under the guillotine of hypocrites and purists because he collected excessive travel expenses in Germany and thus violated the amateur paragraph. He spent the end of his life in bitterness; After several heart attacks he was half paralyzed. At least he was given a state funeral.

The Swiss ambassador at the time, Paul Dinichert, also asked about Willy Schärer in Paris. He casually asked him what he was doing in military service. Schärer, not yet 21, replied that they “didn’t want him because there was something wrong with his heart.” As a dutiful citizen, he later attended recruit school and even became an officer. But running soon came to an end when he took over his father’s company, a workshop for precision mechanics.

Later photos show Schärer as a thoughtful pipe smoker. He had been interested in astronomy from an early age; Schärer thought in terms of time periods other than running records. He himself built two telescopes and an observatory in the Gantrian area. The University of Bern awarded him an honorary doctorate. His Swiss record over 1500 m, the 3:55.0 minutes in Paris, lasted 25 years.

In Paris, Swiss athletes won more medals than ever since: 25, seven of which were gold. The Freilstil wrestler Fritz Hagmann became Olympic champion in the middleweight, Henri Wernli came second in the heavyweight. Two years later, Wernli became the Swiss wrestling king.

The Swiss national soccer team loses 3-0 to Uruguay in the Olympic final

The real sensation in Paris was the Olympic football tournament with the discovery of the South American style of hardness and virtuosity as practiced by Uruguay. The team from Montevideo swept their opponents with five wins and 22 goals (and a single goal conceded). And with an attraction the likes of which the Old World had never seen before: José Leandro Andrade, the only black on the team; he came from a family of slaves. Against France, the host country, Andrade dribbled around seven opponents before sinking the ball into the goal. It was only Maradona who achieved a similar individual performance again against England, 62 years later.

The brave Swiss didn’t have the slightest chance against the Uruguayan ball magic in the final and lost 3-0, but to date no Swiss national team has made it to the final of a major tournament. Max (called “Xam”) Abegglen was also part of the team; he scored six goals alone and, as the namesake, was one of the co-founders of the Neuchâtel Xamax club.

José Andrade then staged what was probably the longest victory celebration in sports history. He simply stayed in Paris for a few more months, wandering around bars and nightclubs as a gorgeous showman and dancer or tuning pianos for the hosts for a few francs. Uruguay triumphed again in Amsterdam in 1928, but Andrade was injured in the final. And in 1930, Uruguay won their first World Cup with Andrade. Only: his dissolute life ruined him. Andrade died in the poorhouse at the age of 55.

Other sporting greats created the basis for their fame in Paris. John Kelly, originally a construction worker and son of an Irish immigrant family, achieved a unique series of 126 victories as a rower, most recently triumphing in Paris in the double scull with his cousin Paul Costello. Thanks to his network of connections as an athlete, he built a successful construction company. His daughter Grace Kelly, the film actress, later became the Princess of Monaco.

Water as a career element: This is the saga of Johnny Weissmüller, the first person to crawl the 100 meters under a minute, set a total of 67 world records and won three gold medals in Paris. Weissmüller came to the USA from Romania as a baby with his Banat German family. The 1.91 meter tall model athlete also attracted attention in Hollywood and embodied the jungle man in twelve Tarzan films and later the adventurer “Jungle Jim” in a TV series. Weissmüller was married five times, but his posthumous fame did not protect this giant from falling into poverty and illness in old age.

He was the first person to crawl the 100 meters under a minute: the American Johnny Weissmüller won three gold medals in Paris 1924.