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Why Does Greece Lead in the Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies?

Olympics Greece
Greece always parades first at the Olympic Games and the European Games, . Credit: Angelos Zymaras/Hellenic Olympic Committee

Greece will once again be at the front of all the athletic teams in the opening ceremonies in the upcoming 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, perhaps prompting a question as to why Greece leads the world in this way, every two years.

Greek athletes lead the athletes’ parade simply because Greece is the place the Olympic Games in ancient times, and the Modern Olympics, were born.

The order of the athletes’ parade in the opening ceremony is otherwise alphabetical, based on the language of the host country.

However, Greece is always first and the host country’s athletes parade last. This year, Greece will lead and Japan will accordingly be last. The rest of the athletes will be in the alphabetical order of the Japanese alphabet.

The modern Olympic Games are the leading international sporting event featuring both Summer and Winter sports competitions.

The Olympic Games are normally held every four years, with the Summer and Winter Games alternating by occurring every four years but two years apart.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, however, were postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and have been rescheduled for this summer.

1896 Olympics
A poster for the Athens Olympics in 1896. Credit: Public Domain

The first Olympic Games

The Olympic Games in Ancient Greece were religious and athletic festivals held every four years at the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia on today’s Peloponnesian peninsula.

The first Olympic Games took place in the year 776 BC. Competition was among representatives of several city-states and kingdoms of Ancient Greece.

During the Games, all differences, conflicts — even outright war — among the participating city-states were postponed until the Games were finished.

This cessation of hostilities was known as the “Olympic peace” or truce.

However, some historians say that the postponment of hostilities between rival cities is a modern myth because the Greeks never suspended their wars.

The truce, however, did allow those religious pilgrims who were traveling to Olympia to pass through warring territories undisturbed because they were protected by Zeus.

The Olympics were a lasting tradition until Roman emperor Theodosius II abolished the Games permanently in 392 AD.

Athens Olympics
The winner of the first marathon in the modern Olympics, Spyros Louis, enters first at Panathenaikon Stadium. Unknown/Public Domain

Athens 1896 – The First Modern Olympics

The Olympic Games as we know them today were reborn in 1896 in Athens and were held at the city’s Panathenaikon Stadium.

Recognized internationally, the first Modern Olympic Games were held March 25 – April 3, 1896 by the old calendar (April 6 – April 15 by the new).

Panathenaikon Stadium was completely renovated, thanks to the financial contribution of the great national benefactor Georgios Averoff.

Demetrius Vikelas
Demetrius Vikelas, the first president of the International Olympic Committee, was credited with the successful organization of the 1896 Games. Credit: Public Domain

At the time, Athens had 111,486 inhabitants; it remained the smallest city to have organized the Games in modern times for decades.

Greece was in a dire economic situation at the time. However, King George did not share the politicians’ reluctance to stage the Games, but rather partook of the Athenian public’s enthusiasm for them.

King George formed the organizing committee under his successor, Constantine, who managed to raise the necessary funds from the contributions of wealthy Greeks.

Thus, early in the afternoon of March 25, 1896 (April 6 by the new calendar), on the day commemorating the Greek War of Independence, the games began in the renovated stadium that was crowded with spectators.

The stirring “Olympic Anthem,” with lyrics by national poet Kostis Palamas and music by Spyros Samaras, was heard for the very first time ever.

A total of 241 athletes from Greece and 13 countries, including the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Switzerland, Australia and Chile participated in these first modern-day Olympic Games.

Female athletes were not allowed to participate at that time. As a protest, a young Athenian, Stamata “Melpomeni” Revythi ran the marathon — alone — one day after the triumph of Spyros Louis.

The vast majority of the athletes were Greek, winning 46 medals (10 gold-17 silver-19 bronze), against 20 by the USA (11 gold-7 silver-2 bronze), which came in second place in the medal count.

The winners received a silver medal, an olive branch and a commemorative diploma, while the runner-ups received a bronze medal, a laurel branch and the diploma.

Those who came in third place, unfortunately, did not get a medal at all. The International Olympic Committee later decided to award gold, silver and bronze medals to the first three athletes in each event.

Spyridon Louis, who won the Marathon, and the Australian accountant Edwin Flack emerged as the most important figures in the first modern-day games.

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