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 01Olympia20120702The Ballads of the Games is a six-part series for BBC Radio 2 exploring the agony and the ecstasy of the Olympics, in the words of people who were there and through songs inspired by their stories.
The series begins at Olympia in Greece, with great athletes receiving laurel wreaths when the Games were staged in a period of regional peace known as the Olympic Truce. Contributions from the British Museum's Olympia expert Dr Judith Swaddling and acclaimed German historians Professors Wolfgang Decker and Stephan Wassong help bring the ancient Games to life; while a visit to Much Wenlock helps cover the revival of the modern Games by Baron Pierre de Coubertin
The previous Olympics in London in 1908 and 1948 were benchmarks in Olympic history. 1908 was full of controversy, notably between the English and Americans; and the story of one gold medal winner, Wyndham Halswelle, is tinged with the tragedy that befell him later on the Western Front. Halswelle's Olympic story is recounted by the Glasgow Herald's legendary sports writer Doug Gillon, who covered every Olympics from Munich 1972 to Beijing 2008.
Bob Fox's fine vocal in The Make and Mend Olympics introduces London's last staging of the Olympics, when a bomb-ravaged city cobbled together sporting venues while rationing was still in force. Bellies Full of Air sums up the difficulties of being an elite athlete at these Games and there are some wonderful stories from 1948, told by author Janie Hampson and competitors Dorothy Manley, Tommy Godwin and Dorothy Tyler.
Song and speech combine to convey hugely powerful personal experiences through melody and memory, adding a delicacy and pace that words alone cannot convey. Manley raced against the great Fanny Blankers-Koen and her memories of that experience, embraced by Julie Matthews' singing of Give a Woman Wings, is a lovely moment where an athlete reflects on giving her all.
Jez Lowe, Julie Matthews, and Martin Simpson provide the music, with other singers and musicians including John McCusker, Nancy Kerr, Chris While, Barry Coope and Andy Cutting.
Two years in the making, this is the second series of Ballads from Smooth Operations for Radio 2 since executive producer John Leonard revived the ground-breaking Radio Ballad techniques of Ewan MacColl and Charles Parker from 50 years before.
 02Berlin20120709Gretel Bergmann, the high jumper dropped from Germany's 1936 Olympic team for being Jewish, tells her story in the second of a six-part series which re-visits events from history through eye-witness accounts and new songs.
Known as Margaret Lambert for the past 72 years, the 98-year-old now lives in New York, where this interview was recorded. She remembers how she was led to believe she would be part of the German high jump team, having been courted by the Nazis to prove their policies weren't anti-Semitic. But, as soon as the threat of an American boycott of the Berlin Games had been lifted, she was cast aside.
At the time she held the German record for the high jump and was disgusted to be told she wasn't good enough. But she agrees that taking part would have been difficult, had she won gold, and been forced to give the Nazi salute to a leader who had already begun exterminating Jews. 30 of her husband's immediate family later died in the gas chambers. Her story inspired songwriter Julie Matthews to write the song Nie Weder (Gretel's Song).
Two athletes who took part in the same Games - American Louis Zamperini and British high jumper Dorothy Tyler - share their memories. German historian Christiane Eisenberg describes an unforgettable opening ceremony, complete with Ode to Joy and the famous Olympic Bell, still situated at the stadium today, but with a shell hole in it. This was tolling not to call the youth of the world to compete at the Games, she says, but actually to remember the German dead at the first world war battle of Langemark, 22 years previously, in line with the Nazi ideology of blood and sacrifice. June Tabor adds a haunting vocal to Martin Simpson's song The Bell, which inspired by Christiane's descriptions.
Another Martin Simpson song tells the story of American relay runners Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, both Jewish, who were replaced in the 4 x 100m final by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, leading Owens to win four gold medals. With help from Glickman's daughter Nancy and Owens' daughter Marlene, the song explores whether the Americans were pressured not to embarrass Hitler by keeping Jews off the winners' podium.
The domination of the Games by Jesse Owens also inspired Newcastle songwriter Jez Lowe to write Jesse Owens' Shoes and turn his attention to some of the significant sporting efforts Owens overshadowed, such as that of the Estonian wrestler Kristjan Palusalu, whose two gold medals were to save his life during the war.
The documentary concludes with a debate about whether Berlin 1936 can be considered the "Nazi Olympics". Contributions to this debate-by-song come from Professor Dr Diethelm Blecking (Institute of Sport and Sports Science, Freiburg), Karl Lennartz (then-editor of the Journal of Olympic History), sports historian Ralf Schafer and the British historian Dr Christopher Young (Cambridge University).
Gretel Bergmann, the high jumper dropped from Germany's 1936 Olympic team for being Jewish, tells her story in the second of a six-part series which re-visits events from history through eye-witness accounts and new songs.
Known as Margaret Lambert for the past 72 years, the 98-year-old now lives in New York, where this interview was recorded. She remembers how she was led to believe she would be part of the German high jump team, having been courted by the Nazis to prove their policies weren't anti-Semitic. But, as soon as the threat of an American boycott of the Berlin Games had been lifted, she was cast aside.
At the time she held the German record for the high jump and was disgusted to be told she wasn't good enough. But she agrees that taking part would have been difficult, had she won gold, and been forced to give the Nazi salute to a leader who had already begun exterminating Jews. 30 of her husband's immediate family later died in the gas chambers. Her story inspired songwriter Julie Matthews to write the song Nie Weder (Gretel's Song).
Two athletes who took part in the same Games - American Louis Zamperini and British high jumper Dorothy Tyler - share their memories. German historian Christiane Eisenberg describes an unforgettable opening ceremony, complete with Ode to Joy and the famous Olympic Bell, still situated at the stadium today, but with a shell hole in it. This was tolling not to call the youth of the world to compete at the Games, she says, but actually to remember the German dead at the first world war battle of Langemark, 22 years previously, in line with the Nazi ideology of blood and sacrifice. June Tabor adds a haunting vocal to Martin Simpson's song The Bell, which inspired by Christiane's descriptions.
Another Martin Simpson song tells the story of American relay runners Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, both Jewish, who were replaced in the 4 x 100m final by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, leading Owens to win four gold medals. With help from Glickman's daughter Nancy and Owens' daughter Marlene, the song explores whether the Americans were pressured not to embarrass Hitler by keeping Jews off the winners' podium.
The domination of the Games by Jesse Owens also inspired Newcastle songwriter Jez Lowe to write Jesse Owens' Shoes and turn his attention to some of the significant sporting efforts Owens overshadowed, such as that of the Estonian wrestler Kristjan Palusalu, whose two gold medals were to save his life during the war.
The documentary concludes with a debate about whether Berlin 1936 can be considered the "Nazi Olympics". Contributions to this debate-by-song come from Professor Dr Diethelm Blecking (Institute of Sport and Sports Science, Freiburg), Karl Lennartz (then-editor of the Journal of Olympic History), sports historian Ralf Schafer and the British historian Dr Christopher Young (Cambridge University).
 03Munich20120716The joy and tragedy of the 1972 Munich Olympics are explored through songs and eye-witness accounts in the third of this series of Radio Ballads.
40 years on, relatives of the eleven Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Games by the Black September group remember their loved ones; while senior Israeli and Palestinian Olympic officials discuss the consequences of the operation. The horror of a deadly terrorist attack at an event promoted as "The Happy Olympics" is amplified by the setting of such personal stories to music.
The days before, during and after Munich are explored through the memories of eye-witnesses and in specially-written songs by Britain's finest songwriters, including Chris Wood, Jez Lowe, Julie Matthews, Steve Tilston and Boo Hewerdine.
The ballad begins with careful German preparations to stage a very different Olympics to the Nazi Games of 1936, through the gold medal delight of Olga Korbut and determination of Mary Peters; to the darkness of the hostage-taking in the Olympic Village and the ensuing death and destruction at Furstenfeldbruck airport.
One song - Did Not Compete by Jez Lowe - was inspired by the struggle of sports results agency boss Ulricht Kaiser to categorise murdered Israeli wrestler Mark Slavin in his summary of the Games. 40 years after Munich, the Palestinian perspective is represented by Palestinian Olympic chairman Djibril Rajoub, whose insight inspires the final song, Masterpiece by Chris Wood, a hard-hitting song summarising thousands of words.
The Ballad closes with Dr Elisabeth Traeder, of the Max Planck Institute, reading out the list of murdered Israeli athletes from the memorial outside the hostage flat at 31 Connollystrasse, which is now used for student accommodation.
Contributors include the Scottish sports writer Doug Gillon, who covered his first Olympics at Munich: historian Dr Chris Young, author of Munich 1972: The Making Of Modern Germany; Walter Troeger, mayor of the Munich Olympic Village; Ankie Spitzer, wife of murdered fencer Andre Spitzer; Tali Slavin, sister of murdered wrestler Mark Slavin; gymnast Olga Korbut; gold medal-winning pentathlete Dame Mary Peters; Israeli sprinter Esther Roth Shahamorov; Efraim Zinger, and the Secretary General of the Israeli Olympic Committee.
 04Going For Gold20120723The pursuit of the ultimate prize - Olympic gold - is explored in words and original song.
"A lifetime of training for ten seconds" is how Jesse Owens described his Olympic experience. And just days before the London 2012 Games begin; the fourth instalment of Radio 2's Olympic Ballads - Going For Gold - considers the stresses and strains of competing against the best in the world.
World class runners, swimmers, hurdlers, sailors and divers all are on hand to tell how they won gold, sometimes many times over. And a team of award-winning narrative songwriters weave their words into memorable songs to create a portrait of lung-bursting, muscle-draining effort in pursuit of the ultimate sporting achievement: Olympic gold.
We follow athletes from their dream of competing at the Olympics, through the tough years of training, to the start line at the Games, and beyond. The musical journey begins with Dreams of an Olympian by Julie Matthews; which includes contributions from double gold-winning Kelly Holmes, silver medallist Liz McColgan, and bronze medallist Brendan Foster
Boo Hewerdine's Getting There, meanwhile, features insight from the darling of Munich Olga Korbut (four gymnastic golds), four-gold US swimmers Lenny Krayzelburg and John Naber, and Israeli sailor Vered Bouskila, who is aiming for gold in London.
The sacrifice, determination and focus of Olympic athletes set them apart from other humans and overcoming setbacks is just part of the challenge. The accident suffered by British showjumper Tim Stockdale, in the run-up to London, is on a different scale: he broke his neck in three places. We hear about his fight back to fitness in Jez Lowe's song Lazarus.
There are tales of unbelievable joy but also unfathomable heartbreak. This episode also features the songwriting talents of Nancy Kerr and the musicians Andy Cutting, Damien O'Kane, Chris While and John McCusker.
 05Controversies20120730The athletes who defied the boycotts and won gold; the sprinter who gave the Black Power salute; the doctor who broke the East German doping scandal: and the girl fed so many steroids she became a boy - all tell their stories, as this series explores how controversy has never been far from the five rings.
Jez Lowe's Flags looks back on the anti-apartheid boycott of the Montreal Games in 1976 when African nations decided to withdraw from the competition in protest at New Zealand's rugby tour of South Africa. Athletes who missed out on certain gold consider whether the protest was worth it.
The Cold War also enveloped the Olympics and the Moscow Games of 1980 were the subject of a boycott by the West over Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. In Julie Matthews' The Political Divide, gold medal-winning 100m sprinter Allan Wells reflects on the boycott that marred the Moscow Games, and the arm-twisting that went on to try and stop British athletes competing there.
Another Matthews' song, Silent Salute, tackles the 1968 Mexico Black Power salute, with John Carlos explaining how he and Tommie Smith stunned the world with their protest. The salute was about dignity and human rights, he says, but he was braced for a sniper's bullet as he raised his black-gloved fist in that iconic moment.
When Olympic gold became an issue of ideological supremacy in the mid-1970s, the methods the East German state adopted to win gold left lasting marks on its athletes. In Boo Hewerdine's What's the Price of Gold, German doctor Werner Franke, who exposed the scandal, describes the doping regime, while GDR regime expert Jutta Braun explains the hold the system had over its people.
In Little Blue Pills, Martin Simpson accompanies the remarkable and sad story of shotputter Andreas Krieger, who was fed so much testosterone he turned from a woman into a man. In an interview recorded at the military supplies shop he now runs in Magdeburg, Andreas gives a frank account of his experiences.
And with London 2012 marking a century since the first major controversy to hit the Olympics, another Simpson composition re-visits the story of Native American decathlete Jim Thorpe, who won double gold in Stockholm 1912 and was once dubbed "the greatest athlete of all time". Stripped of his medals for breaking Olympic rules, it took his family 75 years to get those medals re-instated.
Pills, protest and politics - Olympic controversies explored in stories and original song.
Ballads of the Games, The06 LASTThe Marathon20120806The marathon is the final event of the Olympic Games and so it completes this series, in the words of runners themselves, who share details of their training schedules, diets and the preparation needed for this ultimate test.
The cast includes Basil Heatley, who took silver in Tokyo 1964 behind the legendary Abebe Bikila; and Bill Adcocks who came fifth in Mexico 1968; Karel Lismont, a silver medallist at Munich 1972; and sixth placed Ron Hill, who had been favourite.
Songwriters Julie Matthews and Jez Lowe have been mainstays of the series and they again make a major contribution. Julie sings of the Lonely Distance Runner and considers the strengths of wheelchair marathon competitor David Weir in Born This Way. Weir is a highly decorated Paralympic athlete who has won the London marathon six times. He shares the race mentality and ruthlessness which has helped keep him at the top for years.
Jez sets the classic tale of the 1908 marathon to music, with The Ballad of Dorando and Johnny and pays tribute to East German double marathon gold runner Waldemar Cierpinski. He won consecutive marathons in 1976 and 1980, equalling the double gold of Ethiopian Abebe Bikila.
At 20 miles, when the body's reserves of fuel have been used up, the athlete has to run on mental strength alone. It's called 'hitting the wall' or - as German runners say - 'the man with the hammer'. And Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams'song takes the German expression as its title, exploring the psychological tricks a runner's mind can play on him, and hearing from the greats of the marathon who triumphed over their own shadows.
Nancy Kerr's So Close to the Line closes the show - and the series - with a look at what might have been for so many Olympic medal hopefuls.
Ballads of the Games, The06 LASTThe Marathon20120806The ultimate endurance race - the marathon - is explored in words and original song.

Duration

  • 57 Minutes

Genre

  • Documentaries
  • History
  • Factual
  • Olympics
  • Sport

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