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1896 Olympic Games

1896 Olympic Games


Revival. During the late nineteenth century, sports enthusiasts around the world called for the revival of the Olympic Games. Interest in the Olympic Games, which had been first contested in 776 B.C. and had continued until the fourth century A.D., increased significantly after German archaeologists, in the early 1880s, unearthed the ruins of Olympia the site of the ancient Greek athletic festival. The chief supporter for the revival of the Olympic Games was Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a wealthy French aristocrat, whose concern over the physical fitness of French youth following Frances defeat in the Franco-Prussian War led to reform of physical education. The International Olympic Committee was organized in 1894, and Coubertin was selected as its secretary-general. IOC members also decided then that the games would be held in a different city every four years, that only modern sports would be contested, and that only amateur adult males would be allowed to compete. Although Coubertin wanted Paris to host the first Olympic Games, the IOC selected Athens to host the events in 1896.

Olympic Teams. Two hundred forty-five athletes from forty-three nations competed in forty-three events in the first modern Olympic Games, held 615 April 1896. Because of the novelty of the games, most of the nations did not send their best athletes, and many of those athletes who did compete paid for their own passage to Greece. The host country fielded the largest teameighty-one athletes competing in Athens were Greek. France and Germany both sent nineteen-man teams. Thirteen athletes represented the United States and eight represented Great Britain. William M. Sloane, a professor of French history at Princeton University and the American representative in the IOC, organized the U.S. contingent, which consisted of ten track and field specialists, two marksmen, and one swimmer. Unable to persuade the New York Athletic Club, which had the most national track and field champions, to participate on the team, Sloane garnered the services of four Princeton students, including team captain Robert Garrett and six Harvard graduates who competed for the Boston Athletic Association (BAA). James B. Connolly, a Harvard undergraduate, joined the team despite threats from Harvard administrators to suspend him indefinitely for leaving during the middle of the spring semester. The marksmen, John and Sumner Paine, were brothers and captains in the U.S. Army.

Americans Dominate Track. Greek athletes dominated the competition, winning 49 of 133 medals awarded in the first Olympic Games. After the Greeks came the Americans with 19 medals, then the Germans with 16, the French with 11, and the British with 9. Sixteen of the medals won by the United States came in track and field. James B. Connolly, who won the triple jump, received the first gold medal awarded in the revived Olympic Games. In the long jump and high jump, Ellery Clark led U.S. sweeps of the gold, silver, and bronze medals. In addition to his triple jump gold, Connolly garnered silver in the high jump and bronze in the long jump. Pole vaulters William Hoyt and Albert Tyler won the gold and silver medals, respectively. Garrett, the team captain, won gold medals in both the shot put and the discus throw. Thomas Burke, of the BAA, won both the 100- and 400-meter dashes. In the 110-meter high hurdles, Thomas Curtis narrowly defeated Grantley Goulding of Britain by two inches for the gold medal. Marksman Sumner Paine won the free pistol competition. Gardner Williams, the lone American swimmer, withdrew from the 100-meter race because the temperature of the water was too cold.


John Findling and Kim Pelle, eds., The Historical Dictionary of the Olympic Games (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996);

Allen Guttmann, The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992);

Richard D. Mandell, The First Modern Olympics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).

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