1896 Summer Olympics

Facts

Competition type Olympic Games
Number and Year I / 1896
Host city Athina, Greece (Venues)
Opening ceremony 6 April
Closing ceremony 15 April
Competition dates 6 – 13 April
OCOG Organizing Committee for the Games (1896)
Participants 176 from 13 countries
Medal events 43 in 10 disciplines

Overview

The obvious choice for the first modern Olympics was Greece and the 1896 Olympics were awarded to Athina at the end of the 1894 Sorbonne Congress at which Pierre de Coubertin convinced the delegates to re-establish the Olympic Games. The city of Athina embraced the Games, but the politicians were initially ambivalent, and in fact, in some correspondence reveals that they asked to be relieved of their duty to host. Only through the efforts of Coubertin and IOC President Demetrios Vikelas were the politicians convinced to lend their support to the project. Coubertin addressed a meeting of the Parnassus Literary Society, and finished by telling them, “We French have a proverb that says that the word ‘impossible’ is not in the French language. I have been told this morning that the word is Greek. I do not believe it.” Credit for saving the 1896 Olympic Games for Athina must go to Greek Crown Prince Konstantinos, who headed the Organizing Committee and lent his considerable prestige behind the Athina Games. And although money was short, a last-minute donation of 920,000 drachmas by Georgios Averof allowed the ancient Panathenaic Stadium (built in 330 BCE) to be refurbished and used for the Olympics.

The Games themselves were far from the caliber of sport we expect today. Only 13 countries participated and many of the top athletes in the world did not compete, as the Games were not well advertised. The Modern Olympic Games began with an Opening Ceremony on 25 March 1896, or 6 April 1896, depending on whether or not one used the Julian Calendar (then used in Greece) or the more modern Gregorian Calendar, used by most of the world in 1896, and to this day.

The first event of the modern Olympics was the first heat of the 100 metres, won by American Frank Lane, a student at Princeton. But the first championship decided was that of the triple jump, won by James Connolly, a Harvard student, who left the Cambridge school to compete in the Olympics. He became the first known Olympic champion since Varasdates of Armenia had won the boxing in 369 CE.

The Americans dominated the athletics events, winning all but the 800 metres, 1,500 metres, and the marathon. The marathon was based on the legend of Pheidippides, although the more likely spelling was Philippides. According to Herodotus, Philippides was sent to Sparta from Athina asking for help in the battle. After the battle, a runner, whose name was Pheidippides per Lucian and Eucles per Plutarch, was sent to Marathon from Athina to tell of the victory. Further details are sketchy, though modern legend has Pheidippides/Philippides arriving in Athina to tell of victory in the battle with the words, “Rejoice, we conquer”, and then dying from his effort. The legend is now felt to be apocryphal but it was the reason for the creation of the race from Marathon to Athina, a distance of about 25 miles.

In the marathon, there were several early leaders, notably Teddy Flack of Australia, who had won the 800 and 1,500 metres. Midway through the race, Spyros Louis, a Greek shepherd, took the lead and maintained it to the end. When he neared the stadium, messengers came into the ancient vestibule and cried out, “Hellene! Hellene! (A Greek! A Greek!)”, sending the crowd into a frenzy. The Olympic pride based on millennia of tradition was then realized by the home crowd, which heretofore had been rather disappointed by the results of the Greek athletes. Louis won the race and became a hero, offered gifts and riches by many different Greek merchants. But he asked only for a cart to help him carry his water and he returned to being a shepherd in his small town of Marousi.

At the end of the 1896 Olympic Games, all the competitors and spectators, including the foreign arrivals, were unanimous in their praise of Athina as an Olympic host. In particular, the American athletes thought that Athina should be the permanent site. The team wrote a letter to Crown Prince Konstantinos on 14 April 1896, which was published in The New York Times on 3 May, suggesting that all future Olympic Games be held in Athina. It was not to be. Coubertin desired that the Olympic Games should be international in scope and rotate to various cities, and he would always support that idea.

Bid process

Athina was selected as the host city for the Games of the Ist Olympiad of the Modern Era at the Sorbonne Congress in Paris on 24 June 1894. London (Great Britain) and Paris (France) were also given consideration as hosts, but Athina was elected by acclamation.

Ceremonies

Officially opened by Georgios I, King of Greece (King)

Medal Disciplines

Artistic Gymnastics Fencing Weightlifting
Athletics Shooting Wrestling
Cycling Road Swimming
Cycling Track Tennis

Medal table

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States USA 11 7 2 20
Greece GRE 10 18 19 47
Germany GER 6 5 2 13
France FRA 5 4 2 11
Great Britain GBR 2 3 2 7
Hungary HUN 2 1 3 6
Austria AUT 2 1 2 5
Australia AUS 2 0 0 2
Denmark DEN 1 2 3 6
Switzerland SUI 1 2 0 3
Mixed team MIX 1 0 1 2

Mixed team medals

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
Great Britain GBR 1 0 1 2
Germany GER 1 0 0 1
Australia AUS 0 0 1 1

Most successful competitors

Athlete Nat Gold Silver Bronze Total
Carl Schuhmann GER 4 0 0 4
Hermann Weingärtner GER 3 2 1 6
Alfred Flatow GER 3 1 0 4
Paul Masson FRA 3 0 0 3
Bob Garrett USA 2 2 0 4
Teddy Flack AUS 2 0 1 3
John Pius Boland GBR
IRL
2 0 0 2
Conrad Böcker GER 2 0 0 2
Georg Hillmar GER 2 0 0 2
Fritz Manteuffel GER 2 0 0 2
Karl Neukirch GER 2 0 0 2
Richard Röstel GER 2 0 0 2
Gustav Schuft GER 2 0 0 2
Alfréd Hajós HUN 2 0 0 2
Gustav Flatow GER 2 0 0 2
Tom Burke USA 2 0 0 2
Ellery Clark USA 2 0 0 2

All medalists at these Games