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The History of the Olympic Games - 1896 Athens

First Olympic Games - 1896 AthensHistory of the Olympic Games - 1896 Athens

It is universally accepted that Baron de Coubertin masterminded the Modern Olympic Games.  It was fitting that first 'Modern' celebration was held in Athens, the scene of those ancient games.

What struck me about the history of the Olympic Games is that the early celebrations, with their amateur status, produced more fascinating sporting incidents than the slick professional games of the last 20 years.

On 6 April 1896, the American James Connolly won the triple jump to become the first Olympic champion in more than 1,500 years.  For these first Olympics, winners were awarded a crown of olive branches and a silver medal.

Alfréd Hajos won both the 100m and the 1,200m swimming events.  For the longer race, the competitors were shipped out into the lake and then swam back to shore.  According to Hajos, 'I must say that I shivered at the thought of what would happen if I got a cramp from the cold water. My will to live completely overcame my desire to win.'

An Olympic Anthem composed by Spyros Samaras was played at the Athens.  For the next 60 year a variety of musical compositions provided the backgrounds to the Opening Ceremonies, then in 1960, the Samaras composition became the official Olympic Anthem.

The Most Famous Long Distance Race - The Marathon

U.K. Teenagers of the 1970's thought Marathon was a chocolate bar!  Naturally you know it was the the Greek city where the Phedippedes finished his epic run.

The Marathon race legend tells us that Phedippedes ran from Marathon on one coast, over the hills to Athens and brought word of a great victory for the Greeks lead by Callimachus over the Persians lead by Darius.

They call the race the 'Marathon' not the 'Athens'.  The crucial point is that Marathon is on the opposite coast from Athens and was the site of a famous Greek victory against the Persians (Modern Turkey / Iran).

No wonder they refer to these legends as Greek tragedies; in this instance sadly, the Spartans hit a religious time-out and would not help the Athenians, and Phedippedes himself, hit a terminal 'Blue Screen' when he returned to Athens to tell of the tell Sparta of the impending Persian 490 BC.

The 1896 Olympic Marathon

In 1896 the Spiridon Louis won the first Olympic Marathon in 2hrs:58:50, and the course was only 40K and not 42.6K.  Naturally, the race stated in the city of Marathon and Louis enjoyed his fantastic reception in Athens.  When he entered the stadium 6 minutes clear of the rest, he was joined by the Crown Prince Nicholas and Prince George who ran with him to the finish line and then carried him in triumph to the royal box.

One has to feel sorry for Carlo Airoldi of Italy who had walked nearly a thousand miles from his home in Italy to Athens, only to be prevented from racing by Pierre Coubertin on the grounds that he was a professional athlete.

In the event only 17 runners started in that first Olympic marathon.  Hungarian Kellner originally finished fourth and complained that the Greek Belokas, who finished in front of him, had covered part of the course in a carriage.  To his credit Belokas admitted his guilt and Kellner was duly awarded third place.  This would not be the last time that the Olympic marathon would finish in controversy.

Athens 2004 Olympics.

 

Footnote
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See more about The London 2012 Olympic Games:

2012 London Olympics   • 1896 Athens First Olympic Games   • 1900 Paris Olympics   • Olympics trivia

1904 St Louis Olympics   • 1908 London Olympics   • 1912 Stokholm Olympics   • 1920 Antwerp Olympics

1924 Paris Olympics   • 1928 Amsterdam Olympics   • 1932 LA Olympics   • 1936 Munich Olympics