The Olympic Games of 1896
Pictures from Alfred Meyer, Text from Pierre de Coubertin (5)
Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm with which the victors in the contests were received, on their return to their native towns, by their fellow-citizens. They were met by the mayor and municipal authorities, and cheered by a crowd bearing branches of wild olive and laurel. In ancient times the victor entered the city through a breach made expressly in its walls. The Greek cities are no longer walled in, but one may say that athletics have made a breach in the heart of the nation. When one realizes the influence that the practice of physical exercises may have on the future of a country, and on the force of a whole race, one is tempted to wonder whether Greece is not likely to date a new era from the year 1896. It would be curious indeed if athletics were to become one of the factors in the Eastern question! Who can tell whether, by bringing a notable increase of vigor to the inhabitants of the country, it may not hasten the solution of this thorny problem ? These are hypotheses, and circumstances make light of such calculations at long range. But a local and immediate consequence of the games may already be found in the internal politics of Greece. I have spoken of the active part taken by the crown prince and his brothers, Prince George and Prince Nicholas, in the labors of the organizing committee. It was the first time that the heir apparent had had an opportunity of thus coming into contact with his future subjects. They knew him to be patriotic and high-minded, but they did not know his other admirable and solid qualities.
Race of 100 metres
First Group: The interest of the public was fully excited when the Champion entered the list. After they had ranged themselves in a straight line, ready to bounce forward, a pistol shot gave the signal for starting. Onwards they ran Mr Lane, an American arrived first at the goal, he had run the rate in 12" 1/5. Mr Szokely, a Hungarian came in second, time of the race: 12" 3/4. Second group: To this group belonged one Greek M. Chalcocondylis, member of the Athletic Club of Athens. When he entered the list, encouraging cheers resounded from all sides, but he was overtaken in the race by Mr Curtis, an American, who arrived at the goal in 12" 1/5. Mr Chalcocondylis came in second. Third group : Also in this race an American came out victorious having run this race in 12" only. Mr Hoffmann a German came in second. The victors in each race were of course loudly cheered. This race was only a preliminary one, the final race was to be run on the next following Friday by the two best runners of each group.
Source of document: Official Report 1896
Prince Constantine inherits his fine blue eyes and fair coloring from his Danish ancestors, and his frank, open manner, his self-poise, and his mental lucidity come from the same source; but Greece has given him enthusiasm and ardor, and this happy combination of prudence and high spirit makes him especially adapted to govern the Hellenes. The authority, mingled with perfect liberality, with' which he managed the committee, his exactitude in detail, and more particularly his quiet perseverance when those about him were inclined to hesitate and to lose courage, make it clear that his reign will be one of fruitful labor, which can only strengthen and enrich his country. The Greek people have now a better idea of the worth of their future sovereign: they have seen him at work, and have gained respect for and confidence in him.
So much for Greece. On the world at large the Olympic games have, of course, exerted no influence as yet; but I am profoundly convinced that they will do so. May I be permitted to say that this was my reason for founding them? Modern athletics need to be unified and purified. Those who have followed the renaissance of physical sports in this century know that discord reigns supreme from one end of them to the other. Every country has its own rules; it is not possible even to come to an agreement as to who is an amateur, and who is not. All over the world there is one perpetual dispute, which is further fed by innumerable weekly, and even daily, newspapers. In this deplorable state of things professionalism tends to grow apace. Men give up their whole existence to one particular sport, grow rich by practicing it, and thus deprive it of all nobility, and destroy the just equilibrium of man by making the muscles preponderate over the mind. It is my belief that no education, particularly in democratic times, can be good and complete without the aid of athletics; but athletics, in order to play their proper educational role, must be based on perfect disinterestedness and the sentiment of honor.
The result of that contest was an agreable surprise to everybody, for the victory this time erwas carried off by Mitropoulos, a member of the National Association of Athens. He as well as Mr Persakis, the other Greek competitor in this contest gave proofs of great skill. The anouncement of the jury was received with such frantic applause, such enthusiastic shouts that even the King could not help joining in it. When the Greek flag was seen waving over their heads a new fit of enthusiasm seized the people; hats were thrown into the handkerchiefs and flags were waved and shouts of God save Greece ! God bless the nation! resounded from all parts of the Stadion.
Source document: Official Report 1896
If we are to guard them against these threatening evils, we must put an end to the quarrels of amateurs, that they may be united among themselves, and willing to measure their skill in frequent international encounters. But what country is to impose its rules and its habits on the others? The Swedes will not yield to the Germans, nor the French to the English. Nothing better than the international Olympic games could therefore be devised. Each country will take its turn in organizing them. When they come to meet every four years in these contests, further ennobled by the memories of the past, athletes all over the world will learn to know one another better, to make mutual concessions, and to seek no other reward in the competition than the honor of the victory. One may be filled with desire to see the colors of one's club or college triumph in a national meeting; but how much stronger is the feeling when the colors of one's country are at stake! I am well assured that the victors in the Stadion at Athens wished for no other recompense when they heard the people cheer the flag of their country in honor of their achievement.
1 st Nikolaos Andriakopoulos GRE
2 nd Thomas Xenakis GRE
3 rd Fritz Hofmann GER
Arm Exercises with smooth cord.
Five competitors took part in that most difficult and attractive sport. MrAndriakopoulos of Patras, member of the Panachaean Association, began this graceful game in which he proved himself an accomplished player ; Mr Xenakis, a member of the National Gymnastic Associaion, likewise showed great skill and agility. Mr Hoffmann, Mr Jensen, a Dane, and Mr Elliot tried in vain to beat them in this sport, however Mr Andriakopoulos was declared winner of the first prize, Mr Xenakis that of the second. The National Colours hoisted on the flagstaff were greeted with a storm of applause.
Source document: Official Report 1896
It was with these thoughts in mind that I sought to revive the Olympic games. I have succeeded after many efforts. Should the institution prosper, - as I am persuaded, all civilized nations aiding, that it will, - it may be a potent, if indirect, factor in securing universal peace. Wars break out because nations misunderstand each other. We shall not have peace until the prejudices which now separate the different races shall have been outlived. To attain this end, what better means than to bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials of muscular strength and agility? The Olympic games, with the ancients, controlled athletics and promoted peace. It is not visionary to look to them for similar benefactions in the future.
Pierre de Coubertin.