The 1896 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, was a multi-sport event held in Athens, Greece, from 6 to 15 April 1896. It was the first international Olympic Games held in the Modern era.
Because Ancient Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, Athens was considered to be an appropriate choice to stage the inaugural modern Games. It was unanimously chosen as the host city during a congress organized by Pierre de Coubertin, a French pedagogue and historian, in Paris, on 23 June 1894. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was also instituted during this congress.
The International Olympic Committee met for the first time in Paris in June 1984 and chose Greece as the site of the inaugural modern Olympiad. The ancient games are believed to have originated in 776 B.C. in Olympia, Greece, where athletes competed in one event: a foot race. Over the years, other events were added, including chariot racing, boxing, wrestling and the pentathlon. Participants, who were all young men from Greek city-states and colonies, often battled it out in the buff, as a way to celebrate the human body, and winners received olive branches. The last ancient Olympics are thought to have taken place in A.D. 393.
At the first modern Olympics, 241 male athletes (and no women) representing 14 nations competed in 43 events. America’s James Connolly became the first modern Olympic champion when he won the triple jump on the opening day of the Games. For his achievement, he was awarded a silver medal and an olive branch. Connolly later finished second in the high-jump event and took third in the long jump.
France, Great Britain, Germany and Greece had the largest number of athletes participating. Nevertheless, the U.S. took home the most first-place finishes of any nation, followed by Greece and Germany . All told, America placed first, second or third in 20 events while Greece scored in 46 events and Germany placed in 13 competitions. To the delight of the hometown crowd, Greek runner Spyridon Louis won the marathon. The first Olympiad closed on April 15, 1896.
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. The Panathinaiko Stadium, the only Olympic stadium used in the 1800s, overflowed with the largest crowd ever to watch a sporting event. The highlight for the Greeks was the marathon victory by their compatriot Spyridon Louis. The most successful competitor was German wrestler and gymnast Carl Schuhmann, who won four events.
After the Games, Coubertin and the IOC were petitioned by several prominent figures, 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 Intercalated Games of 1906, the Olympics did not return to Greece until the 2004 Summer Olympics, some 108 years later.