First Modern Olympics
The 6th of April 1896 AD
In 1896 what are regarded as the first modern Olympics were held in Athens, although rather limited events involving competitors of Greek origin (from Greece and various countries of the Ottoman Empire) had taken place there in 1859, 1870, 1875 and 1888.
Another rather unlikely source of inspiration was the Wenlock Olympian Games held in Much Wenlock from 1859 onwards, and visited in 1890 by the father of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin.
When the International Olympic Committee established by de Coubertin discussed where to hold their inaugural event, the French de Coubertin naturally vetoed suggestions of London . Eventually Athens was chosen, having an existing stadium of the required standard and as capital of the country where the games originated in ancient times.
Compared to the games today the 1896 Olympiad had few events: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling (rowing and yachting were cancelled because of bad weather!); and of course they were all-male.
Britain and Ireland sent a small team to the Athens Games, augmented by some competitors already in the city – Frederick Keeping and Edward Battell, servants at the British Embassy, both won cycling medals, objections to their participation on the grounds they were not gentlemen amateurs given short shrift as such suggestions had been when the Wenlock event was begun.
Our first champion was Indian-born Scot Launceston Elliot, who took silver in the two-hand weightlifting and went one better in the one-hand version. He also competed in the gymnastics, wrestling, and 100m. The only other British gold medallist was John Boland, on holiday in Athens, who was entered in the tennis by a Greek friend. Boland, later a Nationalist MP, won both singles and doubles (with a German partner), and politely requested an Irish rather than British flag at his second medal ceremony.
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