An idyllic start to the modern Olympics compensated for the paucity of top-class athletes who travelled to Athens by boat, train or on foot.
Only 241 competitors, all men, from 14 countries turned up for contests in gymnastics, bicycle races, lawn tennis, fencing, marksmanship, track and field and swimming, all of which meant little to the Greeks who were interested in one event only.
The marathon was named after a village in Attica, approximately 40 kms north-east of Athens, where the Athenians defeated the Persians in 490 B.C. According to legend, a Greek messenger carried the news from the plains adjoining Marathon to Athens then promptly dropped dead.
Seventeen competitors, including 15 Greeks, lined up in Marathon for the classic distance race.
Frenchman Albin Lermusiaux set a scorching early pace but collapsed after 32 kms, allowing Spiridon Louis from the Greek town of Amarousion to take the lead.
Louis entered the Olympic stadium to a rapturous reception and two Greek princes left their seats to jog alongside their new hero on his weary way to the finish.
At the other end of the scale, Thomas Burke opened more than a century of American sprint dominance with victory in the 100 metres. Another American, James Connolly, won the triple jump to become the first champion since the Ancient Games.
Winners were awarded a silver medal and olive branches while overall the Olympics, thankfully free of pomp and circumstance, were acclaimed as a great success which must have gladdened the heart of their creator, French Baron Pierre de Coubertin.
** The ancient Games lasted for more than 1100 years, but it
took more the 1500 years for the modern Games to be revived in 1896 at Athens.
** The opening of the first Olympic Games at Athens on 6th
April 1896 coincided with the 75th anniversary of the declaration of Greek
independence from Turkish rule.
** Greek businessman Georges Averoff from Alexandria, Egypt
paid 920, 000 drachma (£ 36,500 at the 1896 exchange rate) for the
reconstruction of the Panathenean Stadium at Athens.
** The Panathenean Stadium at Athens, the venue for the
first Olympic Games in 1896 was actually been built in 330 BC by the orator
Luycurgus, a disciple of Plato.
** The opening of the modern Games at Athens in 1896 was
seen over by 40,000 spectators in the stadium and plus by many more on the
** King George I of Greece formally opened the proceedings
for the first Olympic Games at Athens in 1896.
** Majority of the competitors for the 1896 Athens Olympic
Games were from Greece and the other athletes entered privately including many
on a private holiday.
** The British contingent for the 1896 Games included two
employees from the Embassy in Athens.
** A member of the British team at the 1896 Games was an
Irishman John Boland, who happened to be on a holiday at the time and entered
the tennis events. He won the singles and then partnering a German also won the
** The first competition of the modern Olympic Games at
Athens was the heat one of the 100m and it was won by American Francis Lane of
Princeton University in 12.5sec.
** The most outstanding achievement of the 1896 Games at
Athens came from Germany's Carl Schuhmann who not only won three gymnastic
events but also went on to win the wrestling title.
** Americans John and Sumner Paine became the first brothers
to win Olympic gold medals, when they came first in the military pistol and free
pistol shooting events respectively in the 1896 Games at Athens. Incidentally
their father had successfully defended yachting's America Cup some years before.
** The first gold medalist of the modern times was American
James Brendan Connolly who won the hop, step and jump (now known as the triple
jump). He was the first Olympic winner in 1527 years!
** The gold medalists in the first Olympic Games at Athens
actually recieved a silver medal and a crown of olive leaves; runners-up were
awarded with bronze medals and a crown of laurels; no awards were made for third
** The American team for the 1896 Olympic Games at Athens
composed exclusively of college students, who despite arriving only the day
before the competition, having travelled by ship to France and then by train to
Grrece, dominated the Games with 11 gold medals - the maximum by any country.