The President of the Estonian Olympic Committee, Urmas Sõõrumaa, said that remembering one’s history was of great significance because we all know how important one’s first steps in life are. “if we look into the circumstances at the time as well as into personalities, it could be said there is no point in podium places unless one’s sporting talents are accompanied by spirituality, will to act and the ability to see the larger picture of society. Alfred Neuland fought in World War I, defended his country, excelled in sport, managed to go to Antwerp and bring back gold, and he also was a businessman, coach, and referee. I would like to remind our future heroes that doing sports alone could take you to the goal, but victories will be sweeter, and you can become your nation’s legend if you take a broader look at society. Let us hold Estonian sport’s banner high!” Sõõrumaa said.
The Olympic victory of Alfred Neuland, born in Valga, in weightlifting in the lightweight class ( men below 67.5 kg) one hundred years ago was overwhelming as he displayed the best results in all the three lifts: the ‘one hand’ snatch (72.5 kilos), ‘one hand’ clean and jerk (75 kilos), and ‘two hands’ clean and jerk (110 kilos). Alfred Neuland’s further career was also remarkable: in 1922 he won the world championship in weightlifting held in the Estonia concert hall in Tallinn, watched by the local audience, and, during his career, he set 10 Olympic and world records. Moreover, Neuland was the first two-time Estonian Olympic medal winner, having won silver in weightlifting in the middleweight class during the 1924 Paris Olympics. In addition to his athletic performance, he gained recognition as an innovator in weightlifting for perfecting the technique.
Kalle Voolaid, historian at the Estonian Sports and Olympic Museum, noted that the participation of the Estonian delegation in the Olympics in Antwerp and the medals it had won had been an important milestone not only in the history of Estonian sports but also Estonia as a state. “This was the moment when the young Republic of Estonia had to strive for international recognition in order to survive. We were not immediately accepted in the League of nations, the UN’s predecessor, but smart Estonians decided to look for other options. talking part in the Olympics under its own flag was Estonia’s first major instance of international recognition. The remarkable performance of our athletes, the Olympic medals they won as well as being mentioned by Pierre de Coubertin himself showed that recognition had indeed been granted,” Voolaid said.
Pierre de Coubertin said in Antwerp in 1920: “The VII Olympic Games have still been a great success. Things got done and some records were broken. The famous marathon received special attention. This running event is held at a historic distance, from Marathon to Athens, which is about 42 kilometres. Its revival was initiated by a member of the Institut de France. Upon hearing about my plan to revive the Olympic Games, Michel Breal informed me, quite enthusiastically, that he would award a silver cup as a prize to the runner who could repeat the classic race, but without the lethal outcome. Everyone remembers how the first marathon event was held in 1896, from Marathon to Athens, and how its winner, a shepherd named Spiridon Louis, had fasted for 2 days and had spent the night praying to holy images before the event. Since then, no such fresh and enthusiastic young men have been seen running at the stadium as we can see today, on 22 August 1920. One of the two comes from Finland, the other from Estonia, and together the two young republics have won coveted laurels.” Lossmann’s silver medal in the marathon event was the first Olympic medal of the independent Republic of Estonia.
The Estonian delegation sent to Antwerp comprised 14 athletes who competed in three sports: weightlifting, wrestling, and athletics. Estonians took three medals back home from the Antwerp Olympic Games: gold and silver won by Neuland ja Alfred Schmidt (later known as Ain Sillak) in weightlifting as well as Lossmann’s silver in the marathon event.
To celebrate the historical event, Post of Estonia issued a thematic silver stamp, and Tiit Lääne presented his recently published book “VII Olympic Games. Antwerp 1920.”