Video: First Spartakiad took place at Prague’s Strahov Stadium 65 years ago

The world’s largest stadium hosted mass gymnastics events throughout the communist era

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 23.06.2020 13:42:39 (updated on 23.06.2020) Reading time: 2 minutes

The first Spartakiad took place 65 years ago on June 23, 1955 at Prague’s Strahov Stadium, the largest such structure in the world.

The event was highlighted by synchronized gymnastics. In total there were 1,690,000 participants. The performances at Strahov were divided into Youth Day, Adult Day, Union Day and Armed Forces Day. There were also some competitive sports, events for tourists and the Spartakiad Festival of Folk Art Creativity.

The event was originally meant to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army in 1945. Subsequent Spartakiads too place every five years until 1985, though the one for 1970 was canceled due to political tension following the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion. A scaled-back version without ideology was held in 1990 and called Prague Sports Games (Pražské sportovní hry).

Preparations for the 1955 edition began in 1953 shortly after the deaths of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and Czechoslovak leader Klement Gottwald.

“The first nationwide Spartakiad must be guided by the idea of surpassing and overcoming in all respects what has hitherto been shown at earlier Sokol rallies, workers’ Olympiads and [regional] Spartakiads,” Czechoslovak President Antonín Zápotocký said in 1953.

Sokol rallies were a similar synchronized gymnastics displays, dating back to 1882. Sokol was banned during World War II, revived in 1945 but dissolved in 1952 when the state unified the sports program. Strahov Stadium was originally built in 1926 for Sokol rallies.

Two contemporary newsreels catch a glimpse of the events. Pathe News simply refers to it as Prague: Children’s P.T. Display. The narrator glosses over politics, saying that mass displays of physical training have long been popular in Czechoslovakia. He mentions the current participants’ parents participated in similar events, without distinguishing between Sokol and the new Spartakiad movement.

He calls the patterns created on the Strahov filed a “miracle of organization and timing,” and goes on to praise the choreography and artistry.

A Czechoslovak newsreel after a brief introduction lets the visuals speak for themselves. It shows some of the larger events, with communist dignitaries such as Zápotocký looking on.

Strahov Stadium currently hosts a summer cinema.

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