Athens 1896

Athens 1896 Summer Olympics

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The first Olympic Games - the Games of the first Olympiad in modern times - were held in Athens, Greece from April 6 to April 15, 1896.

Revival of the Olympic Games

The idea to revive the ancient Olympic Games came from the French baron Pierre de Coubertin. Having long thought about his project he invited interested people from several countries to participate in an international sports congress in June 1894 at the Sorbonne in Paris. Here it was decided to hold Olympic Games every four years, and to arrange the Games event the Congress established an international committee headed by the Greek diplomat Dimitrios Vikelas and with Pierre de Coubertin as Secretary General. The committee became the basis for the current IOC - International Olympic Committee. Originally it was Coubertin's idea that the first Olympic Games were organized in Paris in 1900 in connection with the world Expo, but interest in Greece for the project was so great that it was decided to arrange the first games already in 1896 in Athens.

It was a major task to host the first Olympic Games, and many obstacles had to be overcome by the Greek Organizing Committee working under the leadership of Greek Crown Prince Constantine. In particular the financial problems were overwhelming, and the financing of the event only came in place by virtue of a large donation from a wealthy Greek businessman, Georgios Averoff, who has thus earned himself a prominent place in Olympic history.

The opening of the first Olympic Games

After the problems were clarified, King George of Greece was able to attend the opening of the first Olympic Games in modern times on April 6, 1896. The opening took place at a reconstructed Panathenaicon Stadium. The white marble stadium had been built especially for the Games on the remains of the old stadium from around 330 BC which had housed the ancient Panathenian games. The first Olympic Stadium of the modern era accommodated no less than 50,000 seats, and on the hills around the stadium there could be another 30,000 spectators.

In 2004, when the Olympic Games returned to the mother country, the white marble stadium was used for the competitions in archery and as the end of the marathon race.

Among the highlights of the opening ceremony it is worth mentioning the hymn composed for the occasion by the Greek composer Spyros Samaras and with lyrics by Kostis Palamas. At the subsequent Games the Olympic rituals were accompanied by various forms of music, but in 1958 the IOC decided to make the composition of Samaras and Palamas the official Olympic anthem. The anthem has since 1960 been a regular feature of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games.

Competitions at the Olympic Games in Athens

The first Olympic Games were attended by about 240 athletes from fourteen countries: Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, USA and Austria. Most of the participants were Greeks, a total of approx. 200. There were only competitions for male participants at the Athens Games.

The winners in the first Olympic Games were honored with a medal of silver that on the one side had a picture of Zeus, the supreme god in the classical Greek mythology, and on the other side a picture of the Acropolis. In addition, the winners received a crown of olive branches and a diploma. Number two received a bronze medal and a crown of laurel branches.

The athletes competed in 43 disciplines in nine sports: athletics, wrestling, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis and weightlifting. Among the 43 disciplines there is in particular reason to mention the marathon race, which was put on the program in memory of the messenger who in the year 490 BC ran approx. 40 km from the Marathon Plain to Athens to report the victory of the Greek army against the invading Persian army. The first marathon winner in Olympic history was the Greek farmer Spiridon Louis.

In addition to the nine sports mentioned, the plan was that there should also be championships in rowing and sailing. However, these competitions had to be canceled due to the bad weather conditions in the bay of Piraeus.

The first Olympic competition was the first heat of the 100 meters race, which was won by Francis Lane from the USA, who later finished fourth in the final. The first Olympic winner was another American, James Brendan Conolly, who won the triple jump competition and thus became the first Olympic champion in more than 1500 years.

The United States became the most winning nation at the first Olympic Games, closely followed by the host nation Greece. They were again followed by Germany and France.

As it would be the case at many subsequent Olympic Games, it was a gymnast, the German Hermann Weingärtner, who was the most winning athlete with three first places, two second places and a third place. The Frenchman Paul Masson won three first places in cycling, but perhaps the most impressive performance was delivered by the German Carl Schumann, who in addition to winning three disciplines in gymnastics also won the wrestling competition.

After the Games, the Greek hosts published a report on the progress of the event. It has since then become the custom at all Olympic Games, and today even a condition for the hosts, that the organizers prepare an official report on the preparation and implementation of the Games. At the early Games, these reports are relatively summary and without many details, but over the years the reports have evolved in scope and content, and today's official Olympic reports are a comprehensive work with very detailed information on almost everything concerning the Games.

Follow this link for a detailed and interactive medal standing for Athens 1896.
The story about the Athens Olympics 1896 is based on the official Olympic reports and the Olympian Database.
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