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First Modern Olympics Held in Greece in April of 1896

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The Panathenaic Stadium during the first modern Olympic Games. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece, at the city’s Panathenaic Stadium, April 6, 1896 – April 15, 1896. The Summer Olympics featured athletes from over 14 different countries around the world.

Hoping to revive the ancient games after millennia, the International Olympic Committee met for the first time in Paris in June of 1894.

When deciding to chose a country to host the first modern Olympics, the committee naturally chose Greece as the site of the inaugural Olympiad, very appropriately since Greece is the place where the Olympic Games originated thousands of years ago.

The ancient games are believed to have started in 776 BC in Olympia, in the Peloponnese, where athletes competed in only one event, a foot race.

Over the years, other events were added, including chariot racing, boxing, wrestling, and the pentathlon.

Participants, who were all young men from Greek city-states and colonies, often competed in the nude, as a way to celebrate the human body. The last ancient Olympics are thought to have taken place in 393 AD.

The story of Spyros Louis, the Greek who won Gold at the Olympics to impress a girl

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Spyros Louis in his foustanella. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Public domain

Reflecting the norms of the times, only men participated at the first modern Olympics. A total of 241 male athletes representing fourteen nations competed in forty-three events.

Greek runner Spyridon Louis won the inaugural marathon in this first modern Olympics, winning the hearts of the spectators as well and becoming a household name all over the nation.

Louis ran the race not for glory or fame, however, but for a much nobler reason — to impress his love.

As he came from a poor family of peasants and worked as a water carrier, Louis wasn’t considered the most eligible bachelor in town.

Despite his situation in life, Louis had his eyes on the prettiest girl in town, and went to extreme lengths to impress her.

His enthusiasm ended up in complete triumph as he beat out the competition in such a fierce manner that the Greek marathoner was later accused of cheating by the United States, France and Australia.

They just couldn’t accept that they had been beaten by the peasant water carrier who ran the marathon event in a fustanella – the Greek traditional skirt-like garment.

Perhaps it was the motivation of love that empowered Spyros to persevere.

But Americans quickly got over their suspicion, eventually erecting a bronze statue in his honor at the starting off point for the Boston Marathon, in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

Americans won big at the first modern Olympics in Greece

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Picture from the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

America’s James Connolly became the first modern Olympic champion when he won the triple jump on the opening day of the Games.

For his achievement, he received a silver medal and an olive branch.

The host nation of Greece, France, Great Britain, and Germany had the largest number of athletes participating.

However, it was the United States which took home the most medals, with eleven, followed by Greece with ten and Germany with six.

Overall, America placed first, second or third in twenty events while Greece scored in forty-six events and Germany placed in thirteen competitions.

The first Olympiad, which was recognized at the time as a great milestone in international athletic competition and cooperation, came to a close on April 15, 1896.

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