Greek: Αγωνες της I Ολυμπιαδας
Stadium: Panathinaiko Stadium
Opening and Closing Ceremony: April 6 – April 15
Nations Participating: 14
Athletes Participating: 241
Most successful competitor: Carl Shuhmann, 4 gold medals.
The 1896 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was celebrated in Athens, Greece. It was the first Olympic Games held in the Modern era after the Romans had banned the Olympics in AD 393because of its close ties to Paganism. Ancient Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic Games and therefore Athens was perceived to be an appropriate choice. The founder of the modern Olympic games was Pierre de Coubertine, a French pedagogue and historian. He took inspiration from the games organized in Greece by businessman and philanthropist Evangelis Zappas (the founder of the Olympic Games) in 1859, 1870 and 1875. Coubertin’s advocacy for the revival of the Olympic games centred around the Olympics in ancient Greece encouraged competition among amateur rather than professional athletes, and saw value in that. There was also a practice of a sacred truce during these games, promoting peace among competing Greek states and thereby lessening the dangers of war.
The 1896 Olympic games were regarded as a great success. It had the largest international participation of any sporting event prior (14 nations). The Panathinaiko Stadium was the first big stadium to be built in the modern World and held a record of the largest crowd to watch a sporting event of 80,000 people. Unlike today, the prizes for the victors of the games were different. First place received silver medals, an olive branch and a diploma while second place received copper medals, a branch of laurel and a diploma. Third place winners did not receive a medal at all. There were 43 events in total, among which included: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling.
For the Greeks the highlight of the Olympics was the first place finish in the marathon race by Spyridon Louis. On his final lap Louis was fuelled along the way by wine, milk, beer, an Easter egg, and some orange juice as the crowds in the stadium were chanting “Hellene, Hellene!” Greece would finish the games with 46 medals (1st overall) and 10 first place finishes (2nd overall). They also had competitors from Cyprus, Smyrna and Alexandria competing for Greece. After the Games were finished, Coubertin and the IOC were petitioned by several prominent figures including Greece’s King George and some of the American competitors in Athens, to keep the Olympic games permanently in Athens. However, Coubertin had envisioned an international rotation for the Olympic games and the next olympics in 1900 in Paris had already been planned for. The Olympics would not return to Athens until 108 years later in 2004.
The First Olympics Athens 1896: