Today in History: The Olympics Return to the World Stage (1896)


Every two years, the world comes together for a historic event, but it wasn’t always that way. Most of the time, the world is a fractured and divided place with disparate people’s and far away places. However, when the Olympics roll around, the world seems to all come together to cheer for their nation’s athletes.

The first modern Olympics were held starting on April 6, 1896. This marked the return of a tradition that had started in Ancient Greece more than 1,500 years before. The original games ended in 393 AD when the Roman Emperor Theodosius I abolished them, as they were originally held to celebrate the Greek God Zeus. Theodosius was a Christian. In 1894, Pierre de Coubertin, a French baron, proposed the resumption of the games, and the International Olympic Committee was formed.

The games were attended by 13 nations in 1896, and 280 athletes competed in 43 different events. As you might expect from this being the first such games in a long while, theĀ 1896 Olympics were not very organized. Some of those 280 athletes were simply tourists who had stumbled on the games and were allowed to take part.

Of the 43 events, many are still around in today’s Olympics. Sports like track and field, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling, shooting, and swimming were all held in 1896. The track and field events were dominated by the Americans.

1896 Track and Field Olympics. Mirror

The 1896 Olympics were also the site of the first marathon. The route was the same that a Greek soldier had run in 490 BC. This event was won by a Greek, Spyridon Louis.

At the time, the Olympics had a hard time getting off the ground, and the biggest reason was that there were perennial World’s Fairs that took place around the globe. It took almost 30 years before the Olympics could stand on their own and be considered truly successful. In 1924, the Paris games were very successful, with more than 3,000 athletes from 44 countries. They were also the first games where women athletes competed in major events.

The modern Olympic games are still held to this day, as almost everyone knows. They’ve gotten a lot bigger over the years, and are now a multi-billion dollar endeavor. In 2016, the most recent Olympic games held, there were nearly 11,300 athletes competing from 207 countries.