In 1894 a conference organized in Paris by Baron Pierre de Coubertin established the International Olympic Committee and decided to revive the Olympic Games. Following a proposal from the Greek representative, Demetrios Vikelas, Athens was decided to host the First Modern Olympic Games.
In the unimportant and poor Greece of the time, enthusiasm for undertaking the Games reached the point of national delirium. Everyone worked for the success of the event that they considered an issue of national pride.
With funds provided by the legacy of the national benefactor, George Averoff, the ancient stadium located at the foot of the Ardettos Hill was rebuilt completely from scratch in marble: the Panathenaic Stadium!
In 1896, the Panathenaic Stadium hosted competitions in athletics, gymnastics, weightlifting and wrestling, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games and was the finish venue for the marathon.
The games lasted ten days, and it was decided they should start on 25th March, a date which coincided with our national day, in order to celebrate both the opening and the 75th anniversary of the start of the Greek Revolution. In the new Calendar that date is 6th April, which is now celebrated every year as ‘Olympic Day’.
The beginning of the event
If one compares the first Olympiad in Athens in 1896 to the most recent Olympic Games, one could not say that it was really a major world sporting event. Of course, there were reporters from major newspapers in Europe and America, and 12 other countries were present as well as Greece (Britain, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, USA, Hungary, Sweden and Chile). There was also the excitement of the crowds filling the Panathenaic Stadium and other sports fields every day. There was the spontaneous applause for both the winners and the losers: this practice stemming from a deeply ingrained instinct to recognize and reward honest athletic effort and competition. These were the ancient ideals of sport, and they quite literally saved the institution and made it successful.
The proposal for permanency
As being stressed by all the foreign correspondants, it was really worthy mentioning the speech at the closing ceremony of the heir to the throne, Constantine, Chairman of the organizing committee of the Games, formally requested that the Olympic Games be permanently held in Greece. The people, he claimed, were entitled to this, not only because they had succeeded demonstrating the true spirit of sports fans, but also because Greece was the birthplace of the Games and could, more than any other country, preserve their prestige. This was however, contrary to the founding declaration of the Olympic Games, which stated that successive Games would take place in different countries. Greece did, however, gain Coubertin's promise that it would organize the Games in between the Olympics, the Mesolympiads. This however remained an unfulfilled promise as these Games were carried out only once, but for different reasons.
The first Olympic Medallist
On 6th April, 1896 the first medallist of the Modern Olympics was crowned. He was a 27 year old American, James Brendan Connolly, who had won the triple jump with a record of 13.71m. To decide the winner of the Greco-Roman Wrestling, Karl Schumann and George Chita had to fight for two days! The reason was that the fight was stopped due to darkness and resumed the next day. However, the record for the longest continuous period went to the match between Estonian, Martin Klein and Finn, Alfred Asikainen in 1912. They fought non-stop for 11 hours and 40 minutes.