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Athens 1896 - Overview

The rebirth of the Games

The inauguration of the first Games of the modern era, opened by King George I at the foot of the Acropolis on April 6, 1896, was a huge relief for IOC founder Pierre de Coubertin. Greece's instability and economic stature, due to numerous conflicts, proved almost insurmountable obstacles.

However, a rich Greek from Alexandria, George Averoff, donated a monetary gift of 1 million drachma, and in a matter of 18 months a superb white marble stadium, able to hold 60,000 people, was constructed.

Baron de Coubertin's had dreamed of reinventing the Games since 1892. Two years later, the official announcement was made and Athens was chosen as the site.

Almost 250 athletes, two-thirds of whom were Greek, from fourteen countries and three continents arrived in Athens, although the Games were not widely covered by the press. Nine sports were included in the program between April 6-15: track and field, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, wrestling, aquatics, weightlifting, tennis and shooting.

An American student at Harvard, James Connolly, became the first Olympic champion of the modern era on the first day of the Games, when he won the triple jump with a leap of 13.71 meters.

Spiridon Louis: The first Olympic hero

The most impressive story of the Games was one involving a marathon-winning shepherd from the Athens area: Spiridon Louis. Emulating the journey in 490 B.C. of the soldier Philippides, who ran 40 kilometers between the village of Marathon and the Olympic stadium in Athens to announce the victory of Greece over Persia, Louis ran the distance in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds.

Louis' triumph sent the country wild. It was just one of many eventual victories for the host country, which finished with 50 places of honor (given for first, second and third places), compared to the United States' 20, Germany's 13 and France's 11.

Athens proved that the rebirth of the Olympic Games was a worthwhile project, one that could be expanded in the future.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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