It was an amazing Summer for Team GB at the recent 2016 Olympics in Brazil with Britain winning 65 medals, of which 27 were gold, and beating China. Our athletes cemented a place in the heart of all Brits and Team GB left Rio on a cloud of euphoria. Apart from a few competing nations getting upset over our tally of medals, there was huge congratulations all around for the Brits on their amazing success.
Now imagine this is 1920, we’re at the Antwerp Olympics and our British Water polo team has just beaten Belgium to the gold medal. Instead of admitting defeat, being happy with a Silver and congratulating us in the sporting spirit of the games, the Belgians have erupted and started a riot. Soldiers in full riot gear with bayonets and swords have entered the games to control both the angry athletes and spectators who are now smashing up seats. The royal family are quickly ushered out of the stadium.
This is exactly what happened during the climax of this unhappy games and my grandfather, Lieutenant Edward Gordon Gedge, who won a bronze medal while competing for Britain in the Modern Pentathalon at the Games, told this story to the New Zealand Herald in 1986.
The British Modern Pentathlon Team in the 1920 Olympics.
My grandfather described how on the day of the match, he and a friend and climbed to the top of the diving tower to watch the water polo.
“Already there was the great United States swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, also from Hawaii, seeking a good view and a little Belgium ready to raise the flag of the winning country, ” he said. “Britain won and a riot among the disappointed Belgiums erupted. They smashed up seats and the royal family were hushed away. The police could not control the situation and soldiers clad in full riot kit with rifles and bayonets were brought in. But some of them were pushed into the pool (which was apparently a huge moat around the Olympic venue) and they sank like stones. We dragged some out, but there were drownings.”
Duke Kahanamoku also found himself in the pool. After a scuffle with the little Belgian who refused to raise the British flag, the Olympic star attempted to raise the flag himself. But the mast broke and the Hawaiian fell into the pool amid a very confusing scene.
Water Polo at Antwerp 1920
My grandfather retired from the Royal Artillery in 1920. He died in 1991 at the age of 94 after an incredible life that saw him grow up in Egypt as a companion of the royal children, win a Bronze olympic medial at Antwerp and receive a Military Cross in the first world war for bravery. He was also the first Wing Commander at Ohakea Air Force Base in New Zealand and a first rate horse riding instructor.
About the Modern Pentathalon
Modern Pentathalon celebrates 100 years at the London Olympics 2012 this year. The sport first appeared at the Stockholm 1912 Olympic Games, while the women’s competition made its debut at Sydney 2000. The competition involves swimming, show jumping on an unfamiliar horse, a 3km run and shooting.