The early years
The modern Olympic Games were founded in 1894 when Pierre Fredy, Baron de Coubertin sought to promote international understanding through sporting competition. He based his Olympics on the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games, which had been contested in Much Wenlock since 1850.
The first edition of de Coubertin's games, held in Athens in 1896, attracted just 245competitors, of whom more than 200 were Greek, and only 14 countries were represented. Nevertheless, no international events of this magnitude had been organized before. Female athletes were not allowed to compete, though one woman, Stamata Revithi, ran the marathon course on her own, saying "[i]f the committee doesn’t let me compete I will go after them regardless".
The 1896 Summer Olympics,officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event which was celebrated in Athens, Greece, from April 6 to April 15, 1896. It was the first Olympic Games held in the Modern era. Ancient Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, consequently Athens was perceived to be an appropriate choice to stage the inaugural modern Games. It was unanimously chosen as thehost city during a congress organized by Pierre de Coubertin, a French pedagogue and historian, in Paris, on June 23, 1894. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was also established during this congress.
Despite many obstacles and setbacks, the 1896 Olympics were regarded as a great success. The Games had the largest international participation of any sporting event to that date.Panathinaiko Stadium, the first big stadium in the modern world, overflowed with the largest crowd ever to watch a sporting event. The highlight for the Greeks was the marathon victory by their compatriot Spiridon Louis. The most successful competitor was German wrestler and gymnast Carl Schuhmann, who won four gold medals.
After the Games, Coubertin and the IOC were petitioned by several prominentfigures including Greece's King George and some of the American competitors in Athens, to hold all the following Games in Athens. However, the 1900 Summer Olympics were already planned for Paris and, except for the 1906 Intercalated Games, the Olympics did not return to Greece until the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Four years later the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris attracted more than four times as manyathletes, including 11 women, who were allowed to officially compete for the first time, in croquet, golf, sailing, and tennis. The Games were integrated with the Paris World's Fair and lasted over 5 months. It is still disputed which events exactly were Olympic, since few or maybe even none of the events were advertised as such at the time.
Numbers declined for the 1904 Games in St. Louis,Missouri, United States, due in part to the lengthy transatlantic boat trip required of the European competitors, and the integration with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair, which again spread the event out over an extended period. In contrast with Paris 1900, the word Olympic was used for practically every contest, including those exclusively for school boys or for Irish-Americans.
A seriesof smaller games were held in Athens in 1906. The IOC does not currently recognize these games as being official Olympic Games, although many historians do. The 1906 Athens alternating series of games to be held in Athens, but the series failed to materialize. The games were more successful than the 1900 and 1904 games, with over 900 athletes competing, and contributed positively to the successof future games.
The 1908 London Games saw numbers rise again, as well as the first running of the marathon over its now-standard distance of 42.195 km (26 miles 385 yards). The winner of the first Olympic Marathon in 1896 (a male-only race) was Spiridon "Spiros" Louis, a Greek water-carrier. He won at the Olympics in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds at a distance of 40 km (24 miles 85 yards)....