Modern Olympic Games Are Inaugurated Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Olympic festival in Athens, Greece, successfully combined ancient and modern traditions and practices to establish what remains the most prestigious international sports spectacle.

Summary of Event

Many people played a part in the modern revival of the Olympic Games. Panayótis Soútsos published his poem in the Nauplion, Greece, newspaper in 1833, providing the first call for a revival of the ancient Greece, ancient;Olympics festival. Soútsos later presented a detailed plan for the games to the Greek government. Some of his ideas were implemented through the generosity of Evangelis Zappas, who funded successful Olympic competitions for Greek athletes at Athens in 1859 and (after his death) in 1870 and 1875. Meanwhile, William Penny Brookes celebrated annual “Olympian” festivals at his village of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, England, beginning in 1850. These festivals grew into regional and then national competitions at London in 1866 and Birmingham in 1867, and Brookes Brookes, William Penny later proposed international games as well. Olympic Games Greece;Olympic Games Coubertin, Pierre de Athens;Olympic Games [kw]Modern Olympic Games Are Inaugurated (Apr. 6, 1896) [kw]Olympic Games Are Inaugurated, Modern (Apr. 6, 1896) [kw]Games Are Inaugurated, Modern Olympic (Apr. 6, 1896) [kw]Inaugurated, Modern Olympic Games Are (Apr. 6, 1896) Olympic Games Greece;Olympic Games Coubertin, Pierre de Athens;Olympic Games [g]Greece;Apr. 6, 1896: Modern Olympic Games Are Inaugurated[6130] [c]Sports;Apr. 6, 1896: Modern Olympic Games Are Inaugurated[6130] [c]Organizations and institutions;Apr. 6, 1896: Modern Olympic Games Are Inaugurated[6130] Soútsos, Panayótis Zappas, Evangelis Brookes, William Penny Vikelas, Demetrios Constantine I Connolly, John Louis, Spiridon “Spiros”

The person who would finally achieve the goal of an international competition was a French nobleman and education reformer, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who would found the modern Olympic Games. Troubled by his own country’s military weakness and impressed by the focus on physical fitness at English schools such as Rugby, Rugby School Coubertin campaigned for the introduction of organized athletics into French education. He also felt French interests would be served by friendly competitions with the international elite. The June, 1894, conference he organized in Paris led directly to the establishment of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Thanks in good measure to the enthusiastic support of Demetrios Vikel Vikelas, Demetrios as, the first president of the IOC; Crown Prince Constantine Constantine I , the president of the organizing committee; and of many other Greeks, the festival began in the ancient Panathinaiko Stadium (restored in 1895 by George Averoff, a Greek businessman and philanthropist) on April 6, 1896. The day was March 25 by the Greek calendar—Greek Independence Day, the opening date that had been suggested by Soútsos. Soútsos, Panayótis

Between forty and seventy thousand spectators filled the stadium for the opening ceremonies at 3:30 p.m., and as many as thirty thousand more watched from the hills around the stadium. After the Olympic hymn played, athletes ran the heats of the 100-meter dash. The first final, the triple jump, followed the 100-meter dash and was won by John Connolly Connolly, John , an American, who became the first Olympic champion in some fifteen hundred years. (Connolly would later write a historical novel about the games.) A Frenchman finished the triple jump in second place.

The dramatic high point of the first modern Olympiad was the marathon, which was won by a Greek shepherd, Spiridon Louis. King George I of Greece became so excited that he ran with Louis after he entered the stadium.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

Connolly’s victory ceremony featured the raising of the U.S. flag, and the prizes were awarded at the end of the festival on April 15. Victors won an olive branch and a silver medal, which bore an image of the Greek god Zeus on one face and the Athenian Acropolis on the other face. Runners-up took home a bronze medal and a laurel branch. A herald announced each medalist’s name, country, and event, and King George I George I of Greece presented the prizes, congratulating each athlete in his own native tongue.

The ten days of this first modern Olympiad included forty-three events in athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling; bad weather forced the cancellation of scheduled competitions in rowing and sailing. Two hundred forty-one athletes from fourteen countries participated, with the Greeks making up the largest team and earning the most medals. The Americans, with eleven first-place finishes, won the most events. The Germans, the largest foreign contingent, also did well.

Among individual performances, two American brothers, John and Sumner Paine, both became Olympic champions in shooting. Paul Masson of France won three cycling events and Alfred Hajos (Guttmann) of Hungary won both the 100-meter and the 1,200-meter swimming race. An English student, John Boland, came to Athens as a tourist and ended up winning the tennis competition, despite playing in leather-soled shoes with heels. Robert Garrett, Jr., an American college student, triumphed in both the shot put and the discus throw. Ironically, his unfamiliarity with discus throwing proved to be an advantage because his Greek rivals mimicked what they thought to be the classical technique and threw stiffly with their arms alone. Garrett used the leverage of his legs to earn a narrow victory. Carl Schumann of Germany won in gymnastics and Greco-Roman wrestling and also competed in athletics and weightlifting.

The most dramatic and popular achievement, however, was that of Greek shepherd and water carrier Spiridon “Spiros” Louis, Spiridon “Spiros” Louis, who became the winner of the first marathon ever run despite stopping at a tavern for a glass of wine along the distance of about twenty-five miles. (The modern distance for marathon races was not set until 1908.) Louis’s victory in this race, based on ancient legends about the Athenian defeat of Persian invaders at Marathon in 490 b.c.e., established the event as a staple in athletic competitions. The marathon also guaranteed the success of the 1896 Olympiad.

Subsequent festivals at Paris (1900) and St. Louis (1904) were not as well attended or received, partly because of their uneasy link with world fairs World fairs;and Olympic Games[Olympic Games] . However, another Athens Olympiad, the 1906 Games, again organized by Prince Constantine, Constantine I reawakened interest in the Olympic movement and put it on the course that led to the contemporary festival and its global reach.


The 1896 Olympic Games was a creative mix of the ancient and the modern. The herald’s proclamation echoed the practices of antiquity, and the flag-raising inaugurated a new tradition. Victors’ prizes included the olive branch of the original games—cut from the same sacred grove at Olympia—and the silver medals of Zappas’s Zappas, Evangelis revivals. Only men took part, as in the ancient games, but men from all over the world, not Greeks alone. Most entered on their own, as in antiquity, but the Greeks and Hungarians were official representatives of their countries.

Events ranged from the ancient discus throw to the shooting of up-to-date pistols and rifles. No combination of old and new had a greater or more harmful effect than the exclusion of all but amateurs from the 1896 games. This was justified by the symbolic nature of prizes at ancient Olympia, but it misrepresented the realities of Greek competition.

The original Olympic victors earned rich rewards from their native cities and often won money and other prizes of value at festivals before and after competing at Olympia. Amateurism, an invention of the 1860’s, effectively reserved the modern Olympics for those wealthy enough to train, travel, and compete with no thought of expense or material rewards; amateurism as Olympic policy continued for some one hundred years. It was only at the end of the twentieth century that the more open, modern international Olympics had returned to the true spirit of the ancient games. Unfortunately, the international cooperation and harmony that Coubertin hoped the games would foster have not yet been achieved.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">De Coubertin, Pierre. Olympic Memoirs. Lausanne, Switzerland: International Olympic Committee, 1979. First published in French in 1931, a firsthand account by a major figure in the Olympic revival, as essential as it is misleading.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Llewellyn Smith, M. Olympics in Athens, 1896: The Invention of the Modern Olympic Games. London: Profile Books, 2004. A lively and updated treatment by a former British ambassador to Greece.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mandell, Richard D. The First Modern Olympics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. A standard account of the 1896 Olympic Games.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Young, David C. A Brief History of the Olympic Games. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004. A good overview by an authority on both the ancient and the modern Olympics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Modern Olympics: A Struggle for Revival. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. A path-breaking investigation that corrects many misconceptions about the origins of the modern festival.

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Categories: History