On this day in 1896, the first modern Olympic Games begin in Athens
On April 6, 1896, the Olympic Games, a long-lost tradition of ancient Greece, were reborn in Athens 1,500 years after being banned by Roman Emperor Theodosius I.
At the opening of the Athens Games, King Georgios I of Greece and a crowd of 60,000 spectators welcomed athletes from 13 nations to the international competition.
The first recorded Olympic Games were held at Olympia in the Greek city-state of Elis in 776 BC, but it is generally believed that the Olympic Games were at least 500 years old at that time. The ancient Olympic Games, held every four years, were held during a religious holiday in honor of the Greek god Zeus. In the eighth century BC, candidates came from a dozen or more Greek cities, and by the fifth century BC, no less than 100 cities across the Greek Empire.
Initially, Olympic competition was limited to foot races, but later a number of other events were added including wrestling, boxing, horse and chariot races, and military competitions. The pentathlon, introduced in 708 BC, consisted of running, long jump, discus and javelin throws, and wrestling. With the rise of Rome, the Olympics waned, and in 393 AD, the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I abolished the Games as part of his efforts to suppress paganism in the Roman Empire.
With the Renaissance, Europe began a long fascination with ancient Greek culture, and in the 18th and 19th centuries some nations held informal sports and folk festivals called the “Olympic Games”.
However, it was not until 1892 that a young French baron, Pierre de Coubertin, seriously proposed to relaunch the Olympic Games as a major international competition that would take place every four years. At a conference on international sport in Paris in June 1894, Coubertin again raised the idea, and the 79 delegates from nine countries unanimously approved his proposal.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is formed and the first Games are scheduled for 1896 in Athens, the capital of Greece.
In Athens, 280 participants from 13 nations competed in 43 events, covering athletics, swimming, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, shooting and tennis. All of the competitors were men and a few of the participants were tourists who stumbled upon the Games and were allowed to enter.
The track and field events were held at the Panathenaic Stadium, which was originally built in 330 BC and restored for the 1896 Games. The Americans won 9 of those 12 events. The 1896 Olympics also featured the first marathon competition, which followed the 25-mile course run by a Greek soldier who announced victory over the Persians at Athens Marathon in 490 BC In 1924 the marathon was standardized to 26 miles and 385 meters. Fittingly, a Greek, Spyridon Louis, won the first marathon at the Athens Games in 1896.
Pierre de Coubertin became IOC President in 1896 and guided the Olympic Games through its difficult early years, where it lacked much popular support and was eclipsed by world fairs.
In 1924, the first truly successful Olympic Games were held in Paris, involving over 3,000 athletes, including over 100 women, from 44 nations. The first Winter Olympics were also held that year. In 1925, Coubertin retired.
The Olympic Games are now considered the main international sporting competition.
At the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics, more than 10,000 athletes from 200 countries competed, including almost 4,000 women.
In 2004, the Summer Olympics returned to Athens, with over 11,000 athletes competing from 202 countries. A moment of pride for the Greeks and exciting for the spectators, the shot put competition took place at the site of the Classic Games of Olympia.
* Source: History