Athens Greece, 1896

Legacy of the Games

Many aspects of the modern Olympic Games were already in place in 1896, including the opening ceremony. In Athens, nine bands and 150 choir singers performed an Olympic Hymn, composed by Spyridon Samaras with words by poet Kostis Palamas. The hymn was resurrected in 1960 and became the official Olympic Anthem. Most of the athletes also lined up in the stadium, grouped together by nation.

At the Paris congress of 1894 a large roster of sports was suggested for the programme in Athens. The first official announcements regarding the sporting events featured sports such as football and cricket, but these sports did not make the final list for the Games. Rowing and yachting competitions were scheduled but had to be cancelled due to poor weather on the day of competition.

The athletics events had the most international field of any of the sports. A major highlight was the marathon, held for the first time in international competition. Spyridon Louis of Greece won the event to become the only Greek athletics champion and a national hero.

Unlike at more recent Olympic Games, first place winners received silver medals, an olive branch and a diploma; second placed athletes received copper medals, a branch of laurel and a diploma; third place winners did not receive a medal.

At the end of the Games, the International Olympic Committee was petitioned by several prominent figures including King George of Greece and some of the American competitors at the Games, for Athens to become the permanent home of the Olympic Games. However, Pierre de Coubertin was strongly opposed to this idea, as he envisioned international rotation of hosting duties as one of the cornerstones of the modern Olympics. The 1900 Games were therefore planned for Paris and, except for the Intercalated Games of 1906, the Olympics did not return to Greece until 2004.

Women were not allowed to compete at the 1896 Summer Olympics. Stamata Revithi, mother of one, ran the marathon course the day after the men had run the official race. Despite not being allowed to enter the stadium, she finished the course in five hours and 30 minutes and found witnesses to sign their names to verify her achievement and running time. Revithi intended to present this documentation to the Hellenic Olympic Committee in the hope that they would recognise her achievement but her report no longer survives.