Little Bits of History

Going for the Gold

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2010

1896 Athens Olympics

April 15, 1896: The first modern Olympic Games held in Athens, Greece comes to a successful conclusion after ten days of competition. The games first started in Ancient Greece with written records of them dating from 776 BC. Participants for the Ancient Olympic Games were free men who spoke Greek. The games were pseudo-international as men from many city-states and even Greek colonies competed against each other. There was also an upper age limit enforced, reserving the games for young men only. As with the Modern Olympics, there were only a few games (foot races) at first but as time went on, a wide range of competitions were added. They lasted for about 1,200 years until 393 AD when Theodosius I, a Roman emperor, abolished them.

Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman, wished to revive the games. He started his campaign in 1890 without much success. He was undaunted and kept trying. By 1894, with continued effort, 79 men from 9 countries voted to begin the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee [IOC] was formed. Greece was selected as the first venue.

The Greek government did not have the funding or the time to build an arena. Instead, Georgios Averoff, a weathly Greek architect, donated money to restore the Panathenaic Stadium, built in 330 BC for the games. The event was not well publicized worldwide and participants came individually and at their own expense. About 300 athletes from 13 countries participated in pole vaulting, sprints, shot put, weight lifting, swimming, cycling, target shooting, tennis, marathon, and gymnastics. Only first and second places were awarded with distinction receiving a silver and bronze medal respectively.

By 1900, with the games held in Paris – all venues were now awarded to cities rather than countries – gold medals were added and women athletes were included in the events. The Olympic flag was introduced in 1914; Winter Olympics started in 1924. The Olympic flame, a practice in the ancient games, was resurrected in 1928. The sporting events included and excluded in the games has been varied over the history of the modern Olympics.

“It is the inspiration of the Olympic Games that drives people not only to compete but to improve, and to bring lasting spiritual and moral benefits to the athlete and inspiration to those lucky enough to witness the athletic dedication.” – Herb Elliott

“An Olympic medal is the greatest achievement and honour that can be received by an athlete. I would swap any World Title to have won gold at the Olympics.” – Jeff French

“For too long the world has failed to recognise that the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement are about fine athletics and fine art.” – Avery Brundage IOC President 1952 – 1972

“The important thing in life is not victory but combat; it is not to have vanquished but to have fought well.” – Pierre de Coubertin

Also on this day, in 1924 Rand McNally published the forerunner to today’s road atlas.

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