On This Day: April 6th

Today marks the 120th anniversary of the modern Olympic Games, the games took place from April 6th to April 15th in 1896. The event was held in Athens, Greece, this was due to Greece being the birthplace of the original Olympic Games. It had been 1500 years since the original Olympics had been banned by Roman emperor Theodosius I. Athens was overwhelmingly chosen as the destination during a congress set up by Pierre de Coubertin a French historian who also became the second President of the International Olympic Committee, this was after initial proposals for London to be the host city for the games. The games opened on the sixth of April which was also Easter Monday for both the Western and Eastern Christian Churches, it was also the anniversary of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. Crown Prince Constantine officially opened the games with:

“I declare the opening of the first international Olympic Games in Athens. Long live the Nation. Long live the Greek people.”

The events took place at a number of venues the Bay of Zea, Athens Lawn Tennis Club, Kallithea, Neo Phaliron Velodrome, Zappeion and the most used venue the Panathinaiko Stadium which could hold a capacity of up to 80,000 spectators.

There was a total of 43 events at the games from nine different sports, sailing was also planned for the games but had to be cancelled due to poor weather on the scheduled day. The sports were; athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling. Other sports such as football and cricket were initially proposed but plans for their inclusions were never finalised.

A total of fourteen nations participated at the Olympics, the hosts Greece had the most athletes with 169 taking part in the games. Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America all definitely had athletes compete in the games; whilst Bulgaria and Chile both claim to have had an athlete compete. For Bulgaria it was Charles Champaud who was born in Switzerland and some documents of the events have listed Champaud as a Swiss competitor rather than a Bulgarian one, the Bulgarian Olympic Committee however claim he competed for Bulgaria. In Chile’s case the Chilean Olympic Committee claim to have sent athlete Luis Subercaseaux to the games and that he competed in a number of athletic events, documents don’t list the Chilean as having taken part though, although Chile also claim photographic evidence aswell as the fact that Subercaseaux was entered in the events. Egypt and Cyprus are also sometimes listed as having sent competitors with Greek athlete Dionysios Kasdaglis being touted as an Egyptian competitor with the IOC categorising him as Greek in singles events but as mixed when performing with a Greek teammate in doubles tennis. With Cyprus it was Anastasios Andreou who causes controversy as he was from Cyprus but in most cases was listed as a Greek competitor despite not actually being Greek. Two other nations Belgium and Russia also entered competitors before withdrawing from the Olympics.

In terms of medals the home nation Greece had the most medals with 46, 10 of which were gold, the United States had the most gold’s though with 11 from a total of 20 medals. Germany and France both reached medal tallies in the double figures, with Great Britain, Hungary, Austria, Australia, Denmark and Switzerland also winning medals. Three medals including one gold were won by mixed teams at the games. That one gold medal for a mixed team came in doubles tennis with British competitor John Pius Boland and German Friedrich Traun. It should however be noted that the medals weren’t given in a gold, silver, bronze format, it was silver for first and copper for second with third not always actually receiving a medal. I’ve used the modern gold, silver and bronze system due to its simplicity.

At the first modern Olympic Games women were not allowed to compete, in the words of organiser Pierre de Coubertin the inclusion would have been “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect”. In response to the exclusion a Greek woman called Stamata Revithi who herself was denied entry into the marathon event made a statement to show that women could complete the physical events just as men could. She ran the marathon at a separate time than the men did as she had previously hoped to do and finished the marathon within a time of 5 hours and 30 minutes. She had witnesses sign to confirm her accomplishment as she intended to present this documentation to the Hellenic Olympic Committee in hopes they would recognise her achievement. There is however no evidence as to whether she gave the committee her proof or if they recognised that she had completed the marathon at all.

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