Friday 13 January 2012

1896 Summer Olympics Athens: I Olympiad

Over the Fridays between now and the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Games I'll be taking a little look at the summer Olympiads that have gone before.

Nations 14
Competitors 241
Sports 9
Events 43

6-15 April 1896 in Athens, Greece

So to kick off it is back in 1896 to Athens where Baron Pierre de Coubertin vision which he first had in 1889 to revive the ancient Greek idea of an Olympics. He wasn't the first as Thomas Arnold head of Rugby School had first come up with the idea of the Much Wenlock games (after where one of the London 2012 mascots gets its name) in 1850.

  • The original Olympic nations were Greece (the hosts)
  • Australia (although not independent until 1901 the 800m and 1500m golds of Edwin Flack are listed for them)
  • Austria (although part of the Austira-Hungary empire their results are listed separately)
  • Bulgaria (they claim that the Swiss born gymnast Charles Champaud who was living in Bulgaria was competing for them)
  • Chile (who had one athlete Luis Subercaseaux in the 100, 400 and 800m)
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Great Britian and Ireland
  • Hungary (as with Austria above, but also including athletes from Vojvodina, now Serbia, in their team results)
  • Italy (although their most prominent athlete Carlo Airoldo was deemed professional and excluded they also had a shooter Rivabella)
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United States of America
As you can tell from some of the above comments there was little organisation as such. Indeed some of the olympians happened to be in Europe and turned up to take part.

The sports were:

Contestants lines up for the 100m
Athletics with 12 events
  • 100m (when Francis Lane (USA) won the first heat on day one he became the first Olympic winner he came 3rd in the final)
  • 400m
  • 800m
  • 1500m
  • 110m hurdles
  • Marathon (a debut event of 40km from Marathon to the Olympic Stadium)
  • High Jump
  • Pole Vault
  • Long Jump
  • Triple Jump (James Connolly (USA) on winning became the first modern Olympic Champion)
  • Shot Put
  • Discus (part of the ancient games but never before part of an international competition)
USA won 9 of the Silver Medals (for winning), Australia 2 and Greece only the Marathon.

Cycling had 6 events mostly contested at the velodrome.
  • Road Race (87km)
  • Sprint (2km)
  • Time Trial (1/3km once around the track)
  • 10km
  • 100km
  • 12 hour race
There were only 19 cyclists from 5 countries taking part with 4 wins for France (three of which were by Paul Masson), 1 each for Greece and Austria.

Fenching held three events in sabre, foil and masters foil and the spoils were 2 for Greece, 1 France.

Carl Schuhmann taking part in the vault
Gymnastics comprised a total of eight events (the first five are familiar, the last two are now part of the team overall)
  • Horizontal bar
  • Parallel bars
  • Pommel horse
  • Rings
  • Vault
  • Rope climbing ( to climb a height of 14 m (only achieved by 2) with style and time deciding factors to split equal heights)
  • Team parallel bars
  • Team horizontal bar
Germany won five of the events, Greece 2 and Switzerland the remaining one.

Shooting  comprised 5 events 
  • 200m miltary rifle (Greece filled the top 5 places)
  • 200m free rifle
  • 25m miltary pistol
  • 25m rapid fire pistol
  • 30m free pistol
Greece won three of the events with USA winning the other 2.

Swimming all the events took place in the open sea at the Bay of Zea
  • 100m freestyle
  • 500m freestyle
  • 1200m freestyle ( the final race and Alfréd Hajós (Hun) who won the 100m and Paul Neumann (Aut) who won the 500m both entered with mixed results. Hajós won and Neumann DNF)
  • 100m sailors freestyle ( this was only open to sailors in the Greek navy and the winning time was 1 minute slower that the open event)
Winners Hungary 2, Austria 1 and Greece one for a Greek only event.

Tennis had only men's singles and men's doubles. John Boland of Great Britain won both the doubles with Friedrich Traun of Germany.

Weightlifting was still young event in 1896 and the rules are different from today so there was the one handed and the two handed lift. Launceston Elliot of GB won the one handed and Viggo Jensen of Denmark the two handed, with each man coming second in the other event.

Wrestling there were no weight classes back in 1896 just one open Greco-Roman event won by German Carl Schuhmann.

So there you have it the nations and sports that first graced the Olympics. Some recognisable some very different to the sports we know today.

See also:

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