Little Bits of History

Olympiad

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 6, 2012

1896 Olympic stadium

April 6, 1896: Opening ceremonies are held for the first modern Olympics. Pierre de Coubertin believed exercise was the path to better health. Dr. William Penny Brookes held a sports competition at the Gaskell recreation ground in Shropshire, England in 1850, thirteen years before de Coubertin was born. These Olympic-inspired games created a groundswell of interest in organized sports. De Coubertin proposed the idea for a modern day worldwide Olympic challenge hoping to educate children through the example of sports. The games would build character, create equilibrium between mind and body, and prevent wasting of precious time, he proposed.

An international meeting at the Sorbonne in Paris was held on June 23, 1894 where de Coubertin proposed the idea of the Olympic Games revival. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was established and it was decided to hold the first event at Athens, Greece. The games would be held every four years. Greek philanthropist Evangelos Zappas paid to  update the ancient Panathaenian Stadium for the first games.

King George I of Greece officially opened the games on this date. There were 241 athletes from 14 nations participating in the events. There were 43 contests in nine different sports. This was the largest gathering of international athletes to date. The men competed in athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling. The nations included were: Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.

Participants from ten of the countries received medals. The US won the most gold medals (11) while Greece won the most medals over all (46). During the actual games, only first and second place contestants were given medals – a silver medal and an olive branch for first place with runners-up getting a bronze medal and a laurel branch. The IOC has retroactively given the top three contestants the now more familiar gold, silver, and bronze medals for first, second, and third place, respectively. Women were not yet permitted to join in the contests. The Games closing ceremony was held on April 15.

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well. – Pierre de Coubertin

An Olympic medal is the greatest achievement and honor that can be received by an athlete. I would swap any World Title to have won gold at the Olympics. – Jeff Fenech (Australian boxer, 1984 Summer Olympics)

The Olympics have been with the world since 776 B.C., and have only been interrupted by war, especially in the modern era. – Bill Toomey (American decathlete, 1968 Summer Olympics)

For athletes, the Olympics are the ultimate test of their worth. – Mary Lou Retton (American gymnast, 1984 Summer Olympics)

Also on this day:

Twinkies – In 1930 James Dewer invents the ubiquitous treat.
Varney Air Lines – In 1926, air mail delivery began.
Money, Money, Money – In 1808, John Astor incorporated the American Fur Company.

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