On April 6, 1896, the inaugural Olympic Games kicked off in Athens, Greece. Harkening back to the mythologised Olympic games from ancient Greece, the Games were an overwhelming success, paving the way for modern sports competition as we know it.
However, most people know little about the genesis of the modern Games beyond the fact that it was the brainchild of French Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The history of the modern Olympic Games predates de Coubertin, beginning all the way back in 1830s Greece.
This move towards amateurism would also be copied in Greece and by the 1870s, the once-promising “Olympic movement” had been run to the ground in both countries, with quality of the 1875 Greek Olympics dipping substantially.
Internationalising the Olympics
In a bid to re-energise the Olympics, in 1880, Brookes proposed, for the first time, the idea of an international Olympic games. Thus far, both in Britain and Greece, the Olympics had been restricted to nationals. In his letter proposing the idea, Brookes wrote that he hoped to see athletes of various nations “contending in a generous rivalry with athletes of other nations in the time-consecrated stadium at Athens”.
It is this idea that would eventually be picked up by French Baron Pierre de Coubertin. De Coubertin was born into an aristocratic French family and was interested in introducing physical education to the curricula of French schools. He was also someone who was not shy of taking credit for ideas which were not his own.
The French baron met Brookes, who was similarly interested in physical education, in Wenlock in 1890. Brookes even held a special edition of his Wenlock Olympic Games in his honour. A couple of years later, now back in France, he suddenly made a public proposal for an Olympic revival, maintaining that it was a novel idea, and all his own.
However, what de Coubertin can be credited for is organising the “Congress for the Revival of the Olympic Games” in 1894 in Paris. This conference, which had delegates from across Europe, would last several days and it was here that the first International Olympic Games, to be held in Athens in 1896, were proposed.
Athens 1896: the first Olympic Games
The Athens Olympics, held under the aegis of the newly founded International Olympic Committee, would be a rousing success. Held in the Panathenaic stadium, it was the first international sports meet of its scale to ever be organised. The Games attracted athletes from 14 nations, with the largest delegations coming from Greece, Germany, France and Great Britain.