History of Olympics: 1896 Athens Games and Pierre de Coubertin. Founded by Pierre de Coubertin, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896 with 311 athletes from 13 countries. At the first modern Olympic Games, one event held meaning above all others for the Greeks: the marathon.
Rooted in Greek mythology, the marathon is meaningful to the Greek people because of what it represents. According to the myth, a Greek messenger named Phidippides ran to Athens in 490 B.C. to share the news of the Greek victory at the Battle of Marathon. After Phidippides shared his message, he promptly dropped dead from exhaustion from his 26-mile run.
So when Spyridon Louis, a Greek shepherd who was competing in the marathon, entered the stadium before everyone else in Athens in 1896, many in the crowd were excited. Until that day – the final day of competition – the Greek athletes had not yet earned victory in a track and field event.
To highlight his victory, two Greek princes joined Louis on the track and ran with him to the finish line. The marathon was the only track and field event won by a Greek during the first modern Olympic Games.
History of the Olympic Games: First Modern Olympic Games, Athens, 1896
Louis was competing in the first modern Olympic Games, which were held in Athens, Greece. King George I of Greece declared the event open on April 6, 1896.
During the first modern Olympic Games, 311 male athletes from 13 countries competed against one another for a silver medal and a certificate. That year, gold medals were not awarded because they were considered too expensive. Nine sports were contested, including track and field, fencing, swimming and gymnastics, among others.
Founder of the Modern Olympic Games: Baron Pierre de Coubertin
Though a success in 1896, the modern Olympic Games were initially met with resistance. Founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the first modern Olympic Games took more than 25 years to become a reality.
In 1870, de Coubertin was an educator in the French Sports Ministry who believed amateur sports to have a positive affect on society. That year, de Coubertin visited ruins of an ancient stadium in Olympia and a new idea was born. De Coubertin thought a revival of the athleticism displayed in ancient Greece would promote world peace.
De Coubertin had trouble gaining credibility for his idea. In 1894, however, de Coubertin gave an impassioned speech to the leaders of nine other nations, including the United States and Russia.
“The telegraph, railroads and telephone have done more for peace than all the treaties and diplomatic conventions,” de Coubertin said in 1894. “I expect that athleticism will do even more.”
De Coubertin’s speech worked and the first modern Olympic Games were held two years later. De Coubertin hoped the modern Olympic Games would showcase national pride while promoting brotherhood among nations.
National pride could be seen immediately at the very first Olympic Games among the Greek princes who jumped from their seats to congratulate Louis. The continued existence and growth of the Olympic Games in itself is an example of brotherhood among nations. Today, athletes from more than 200 countries put aside their differences and compete, man against man and woman against woman, to be the best in the name of good sportsmanship.