The first modern Olympics begin in Athens – archive, April 1896

The revival of the Olympic Games

From a correspondent
5 February 1896

In April next a revival of the Olympic Games will be undertaken in Athens. From London to the Greek capital is not a very arduous journey, especially in the early spring or autumn. There are two good routes I can recommend. One is via Paris to Marseille – excellent boats – direct to Athens (four days). The other route is via Dover to Ostend, then through Belgium and Germany by Belgian State Railway to Basle, and from Basle to Milan by the Swiss railway. But then comes the objectionable feature of a twenty-four hours’ railway journey through Italy – poor service and very slow, with several changes. Then thirty-six hours’ sail from Brindisi to Patras, and seven hours’ railway journey to Athens.
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7 April 1896

The opening of the Olympic Games to-day was observed as a national festival, enthusiastic interest being taken in the sports. The day was opened with a Te Deum in the cathedral, at which the members of the royal family and Russian Grand Duke George were present. The spectators of to-day’s events are calculated to have numbered 18,000. The royal party arrived at three o’clock. They were met in the centre of the arena by the Crown Prince, surrounded by members of the organising committee. His highness, in a short speech, formally begged the King to take over in the name of Greece the Stadium, the restoration of which had been rendered possible by the generosity of a great Greek.

8 April 1896
The “barbarians” carried almost everything before them on the first day of the Olympic Games, and it looks as though the Old World had the revived the oldest of its athletic institutions only to receive a crushing reminder of the inferiority to the New World. Out of ten results on the first day, seven went to America, one to Australia, and a couple to two effete nations of the Old World, France and England.

The games at Athens

11 April 1896

The parallel bars competition was won to-day by Herr Flatow, of Germany, and M Zutter, of Neuchatel. In the pole-climbing competition the first and second prizes were easily carried off by the two Greeks, MM Andrikopoulys and Xenakis.

The great event of the day was a foot race from Marathon to Athens, the distance, according to the official programme, being 26¼ miles. A start was made from the famous Tumulus at Marathon, and the goal was the Stadium in Athens. The prize is a handsome cup, presented by M Michel Breal, a member of the Institute of France. There were 20 competitors. The three placed men were all Greeks, the result being: – Louis, 1; Vasilakos, 2; Belokas, 3. The winner’s time was 2 hours 58 minutes. Louis is a peasant of the village of Amarousion, and Vasilakos a Laconian, now resident at the Piraeus.



The start of the mens 100-metres race, Olympic Games. Athens. Photograph: PPP

Editorial: the Olympic Games

15 April 1896

It is a pity that so few of the prizes at the new Olympic Games should have been won, or even tried for, by British athletes. A Gloucester man was first in a hurdle race, an Irish lawn tennis player won the singles and, with a Hamburg man as a partner, the doubles, and a Londoner took the first prize for weightlifting, a somewhat perilous exercise which we see should not care to see as popular as hammer-throwing or putting the shot. But scarcely a single British athlete of the first rank put his name down for anything, and the rulers of our athletics showed their indifference to the interests of the international sports by running the English ten miles championship the day after the chief long-distance race at Athens.

The truth is, we are mighty insular in athletics. A study of the Field newspaper, reports and correspondence, gives one the impression that the English athlete lives in constant terror of beating or being beaten by someone who is not an amateur, and that he has a strong suspicion that very few foreigners are amateurs. The Americans are less fearful of contamination, and quite a large number of them have jumped at the chance of riding bicycle races and running in sprints between the spurs of Mount Hymettus, with Lykabettus on their right, the Acropolis on their left, and Salamis in view in the distance. We must say that we sympathise heartily with the zest with which they threw themselves into this kindly international festival, and we hope that when the next Olympic Games are held at Paris in 1900 the best of our own athletes will be there to meet them, even if they do run the peril of beating an Attic peasant who has competed for a prize of money. The bodies which govern athletics in this country could surely pass an Act of indemnity for any athlete who was found guilty of this enormity in so good a cause.

The Olympic Games closing ceremony

16 April 1896

The Olympic Games were formally brought to a close this morning, when the King and members of the royal family proceeded to the station and presented the awards to the victors. The weather was brilliant, and the station was densely crowded with people. On the arrival of the Royal party, Mr Robertson, of the United States, read a Pindaric ode on the Olympic Games. A Herald-at-Arms then proclaimed the names of the victors, who received from the hands of the King a wreath of wild olive brought from Olympia, a medal, a certificate, and a prize. The name of the winner of the Marathon race was hailed with the greatest enthusiasm.

The presentation of prizes, Olympic Games. Athens, Greece.



The presentation of prizes, Olympic Games. Athens, Greece. Photograph: PPP