Prior to the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, many efforts had been made at attempting to resurrect the Ancient Olympic Games and stage them with a program mainly containing contemporary events. These include Robert Dover’s Cotswold Olimpick Games, the Much Wenlock Olympian Games, and the Zappas Olympic Games in Athens. Other attempts at Olympian-type festivals are known to have been held in:
In addition, various Highland and Caledonian Games were held in the 19th century, which brought together various Celtic peoples in athletic competition. However, none of these events had the international flavor of Pierre de Coubertin’s revived Olympic Games. Much of the impetus for revival in the 19th century was due to recent archaelogical finds at Ancient Olympia and other classical sites in Greece. These digs were initiated by A. Blouet, a Frenchman, and continued by the Germans, notably Ernst Curtius. Curtius began his digs in 1875 and reports on his finds were issued between 1890 and 1897. However, the German government published yearly reports between 1875 and 1881. The idea of revival was also in the air for at least a century prior to Coubertin. The term Olympic and Olympian was apparently used frequently to refer to any athletic contest. Note Shakespeare’s phrases from the late 1500s: “ … such rewards as victors weare at the Olympian Games” (Henry VI, Act 2) and “ … Olympic wrestling” (Troilus and Cressida, Act 4). Milton discussed “As at th’ Olympian Games or Pythian fields” in Paradise Lost in 1667. Professor John Lucas of Penn State University discovered a letter from T. B. Hollis written in 1788 to Josiah Willard, president of Harvard University, in which Hollis states, “Our documents carry mention of an eventual rebirth of the Olympic Games in America. The friends of this latter [idea]. want and pretend to be capable of it: after having acted according to Greek Principles, they must practice Greek exercises.” In 1793, Johannes C. F. Guts-Muths discussed the Ancient Olympics in his Gymnastik für Jugend, and by the second edition in 1804, he was considering a revival. In 1813, the philologist and historian Bartold Georg Niebuhr wrote of “… a vast hall [in Rome]. which, once properly decorated, could serve for the resumption of the Olympic Games.” Thus, Pierre de Coubertin did not come to his Olympic idea without help. However, a great deal of credit is due him as he was the visionary who, apart from William Penny Brookes, really envisioned the possibility of a great international festival, bringing together the youth of all nations in peaceful competition. Without Coubertin’s vision, it is almost certain that the Olympic Games would have been revived. But it is not as certain that they would be anything like the Olympic Games we know today.