Olympics: Walk down memory lane: Highlights & fun facts from the 1896 & 1900 edition of the Games


The showpiece event is set to begin on July 23rd. While international fans had been banned long back, due to the rising cases in Tokyo, the glitzy even will lose some of its sheen as the tournament will be held completely behind closed doors.

With no fans, and quarantine rules and social distancing and covid replacements, the upcoming Games will be like no other, with the threat of the virus hanging over its head.
Athletes and officials have already starting reaching the venue.

As we gear up for the much-awaited Tokyo Games, mykhel, with inputs from PTI, takes you down memory lane. Here are some of the highlights and fun facts from the first two editions of the modern Olympics, held in 1896 and 1900.


1896, Greece Olympics:

  • A long-lost tradition of ancient Greece, the Olympic Games stood revived in Athens 1,500 years after being banned by Roman Emperor Theodosius I.
  • Like their ancient counterpart, the 1896 Athens Games were an all-male affair. It was the only time in the history of modern Olympics that there were no women competitors.
  • There were 241 athletes from 14 countries who competed in the Games, held from April 6 to 15.
  • The athletes competed in 43 events covering athletics (track and field), cycling, swimming, gymnastics, weightlifting, wrestling, fencing, shooting, and tennis.
  • Medals were awarded to the winners for the first time. However, none were gold. Athletes finishing first received a silver medal, an olive branch and a diploma while those in second place were given a bronze/copper medal, a branch of laurel and a diploma.
  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC) retroactively assigned medals to all third-placed athletes.
  • American track and field athlete James Connolly won the triple jump to become the first Olympic champion in more than 1,500 years on April 6, 1896.
  • The Games produced the first-ever organised marathon but nearly half the competitors were forced to quit from exhaustion. Greece’s Spyridon Louis won the race.
  • Swimming events were held in the Bay of Zea. Competitors were ferried out to a wooden raft and from there, they raced towards the shore with a string of floating, hollowed-out pumpkins as lane markers.
  • Germany’s Carl Schuhmann emerged as the most successful athlete of the first Olympic Games of the modern era, finishing top in four events in gymnastics and wrestling. He also competed in the weightlifting event.
  • Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras became the youngest documented Olympian. At 10 years and 218 days old, Loundras competed in the team parallel bars event. His team finished third.
  • No weight classes existed for the wrestling competition, held in the Panathenaic Stadium. This meant that there was only one winner among competitors of all sizes. The rules used were similar to modern Greco-Roman wrestling, although there was no time limit.

1900, Paris Olympics:

  • The Games were held in Paris as part of the World’s Fair. The organisers spread the competitions over five months.
  • Unlike the 1896 Athens Games, no opening or closing ceremonies were held.
  • It was the first time that women featured in the Games American-born Helene de Pourtales became the first female Olympic champion as part of the Swiss winning team in the 1-2 ton sailing event.
  • UK’s Charlotte Cooper became the first female to win an individual Olympic event — the women’s singles tennis competition.
  • The track-and-field events were held on a grass field that was uneven and often wet. Broken telephone poles were used to make hurdles, and hammer throwers occasionally found their efforts stuck in a tree.
  • Weightlifting and wrestling were dropped and 13 new sports were added.
  • It was the only time cricket featured in the Olympics. Only two countries competed, Great Britain and hosts France.
  • Athletes from different nations competed on the same team in tennis, football, polo, rowing and tug of war.
  • Live pigeons were used as targets in the shooting events. It was the first and only time in Olympic history when animals were killed on purpose. Birds were released one at a time from ‘traps’ in front of the shooters. Winners were determined by whoever shot the most birds out of the sky.
  • Franco-Haitian rugby player Constantin Henriquez became the first black athlete to win gold when France beat Great Britain and Germany to victory. He is also believed to be the first black competitor at the Olympics.

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