Monday, 30 November -0001

How to host your own Olympics

Perhaps the call didn't come to help carry the torch and you're feeling a little left out. So why not just stage your own games?

Written by Janie Hampton

Many people in Britain are getting very excited about the London Olympics. For those of us who never even made the third netball team at school, the idea of forcing yourself into a state of agony and sweat, in the very small hope of winning a not-really-gold medal, seems bizarre. But we can still catch a whiff of the nation’s excitement by creating our very own alternative Olympic Games parties. All you need is a garden or a local park and some friends of any age.

  • Invite guests to dress up as representatives of different nations.
  • Give the area a festive feel with bunting, which can be made by cutting long triangles from sheets, shirts, frocks or curtains with pinking shears and stapling them to a washing line.
  • Open your party with a torch relay. Place the spectators at strategic intervals round the garden to cheer as each torchbearer totters past. If no crowd can be summoned, download a recording of cheering from the Proms. A replica torch can be made by punching holes into gold foil and twisting it into a cone. Add flames made from red foil.
  • Prepare your programme according to the ability and competitiveness of your guests. Lazy friends can always be cheering spectators.
  • Start each event with the authentic sound of a starting pistol. Blow up a brown paper bag, twist the opening tight and pop it with the other hand. Ready… Steady… Bang!
  • Fencing is fun rather than dangerous if performed with rolled-up newspapers. Dip one end in red poster paint or tomato ketchup so that each touché is clear to see on the opponent’s body.
  • Much merriment can be had from bare-torso, Greco-Roman wrestling in a muddy vegetable patch. Add to the fun by greasing opponents with cooking oil.
  • Extinct Olympic Games can be revived: Bohemian gymnastics, for instance, which would benefit from wearing colourful clothes and flowers in the hair. Paint a line on the lawn to represent a gym bar, and perform daring moves, such as leaning over sideways or lying with one leg in the air.
  • In the tug-of-war at the 1908 Games in London, three British teams – the City of London Police, Liverpool Police and the Metropolitan Police – won all the medals. If you haven’t got a good thick rope for your own tug-of-war, use sheets knotted together. Wearing spiked shoes is considered cheating.
  • Figure riding at the Olympics in 1920 involved army officers leaping on their horses from behind, then standing on one leg while galloping. You can recreate this with a line of stools or crouching uncles. Bicycle polo can be played with golf clubs and a tennis ball.
  • Rhythmic gymnastics took place in the rain at Antwerp after the First World War. Ask your guests to perform synchronised somersaults and handstands, and for added authenticity, spray them liberally with a watering can while they do it.
  • Hurdling has been a feature of every Games. Line up clotheshorses, or get the tiredest people to lie on the ground, then jump over them.
  • Men’s two-handed discus was a speciality of the 1912 Stockholm Games before they realised that one hand would do just as well. Tent-pole javelin throwing only works for sober adults, whereas Victoria sponge discus throwing is fun for all ages.
  • Standing long jump was once popular. Competitors leant forward as far as they could go without falling over and then leapt. Don’t try it across a flowerbed. Standing high jump can be attempted over a washing line.
  • Invent your own Olympic events, such as rolling the baked bean tin, throwing the pancake discus, duvet racing (two in a bag), and balancing an egg on your tongue. Or try wrapping each other up in newspaper and sticky tape. The first to cover their partner all over, wins.
  • No Olympic ceremony is complete without the playing of national anthems. Ask each person to choose their favourite song and if they win, everyone sings it with them. John Brown’s Body, Baa Baa Black Sheep and Abba’s Dancing Queen all make good anthems.
  • The food you serve should have an international flavour. We recommend Indian kulfi, Jamaican ginger cake, Russian pelmeni, Italian ice cream, Chinese noodles or Welsh rarebit. For dessert, make red, yellow and green jelly in wobbly circles, or ice a cake with lots of rings in different colours.

Janie Hampton is the author of The Austerity Olympics: When The Games Came To London In 1948 (Aurum Press, £8.99) and London Olympics: 1908 and 1948 (Shire, £6.99).

Still dreaming of going to the Olympics?

Genuine Olympic tickets are hard to buy, but you can always knit them!


Materials Ball of double knitting white wool with odd bits of red, green, yellow and blue.

Method Knit a rectangle about 10cm x 5cm with stripes in the official colours, or choose your own: purple, orange, Day-Glo are all nice. Embroider the words FAKE TICKET on it. Carol Meldrum has many other bright ideas in her brilliant book, Knitlympics: Knit Your Favourite Sports Star, which shows you how to knit your own laurel wreath or the stars from the last London Olympics in 1948, such as Fanny Blankers-Koen and Emil Zatopek, who both stole the show with their running.

Knitlympics by Carol Meldrum (Collins & Brown, £7.99).

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