The revival of the Olympic Games
The Olympic Games were outlawed by the Roman Emperor Theodosios in 398 AD. Hundreds of years passed, and the Games were forgotten.
Meanwhile, Greece was occupied by Turkey for four hundred years. In 1821 the Greek people took arms against the Turks and fought for their freedom. In 1828 France, Russia, and the United Kingdom recognized Greece as an independent country.
In this new state, many people wanted to restore their Greek heritage. Among other things, they wanted to revive the ancient Olympic Games.
As early as 1833, Alexander Soutsos wrote poems that recalled the ideals of the ancient games: fair play, respect for the rules and human dignity, and peace among the city-states. His poetry influenced many Greeks, and especially two rich philanthropists: Evangelos Zappas and Georgios Averof.
Zappas volunteered to finance athletic games every four years and, in 1859, he sponsored the first International Olympic Games since they were banned in 393. In this first revival, athletes from Greece and the Ottoman Empire competed in a central square in Athens, for lack of a stadium.
Zappas died in 1865. In his will he left great amounts of money for three specific projects:
uthe excavation and restoration of the ancient Panathenaic Stadium, the ruins of
which lay covered for hundreds of years
uthe building of the Zappeion Megaron, to be used for indoor athletic events and
uthe continuous funding of the Olympic Games
The Greeks followed his wishes, and organized the Zappian Olympic Games in 1870, 1875, and 1889. Even though they were small local events, these games became known when newspapers from all over the world published articles about them.
In other countries, too, there were people who believed in the Olympic ideals, and talked of reviving the Olympic Games.
One of them was Pierre de Coubertin, a great French sportsman and educator who believed that sports should be part of a person’s education.
When Pierre was 31 years old, he attended a sports meeting where he announced that he wanted to revive the ancient Olympic Games.
No one believed him, or paid attention to him.
But he was not discouraged. Two years later, in 1894, he called a meeting in Paris, where delegates from many countries established the International Olympic Committee, IOC for short. The committee decided to hold the first International Olympic Games in 1896, and appointed the Greek delegate Demetrios Vikelas as the first President of the IOC. Vikelas was a successful businessman and author. He persuaded the IOC to organize the first Games in Athens, in order to link them with the ancient Games.
The Greek committee used monies from the Zappas fund and a large donation from Georgios Averof, to improve the Stadium and finance the 1896 Summer Olympics.
On March 25, 1896, 241 athletes from fourteen countries, and 100,000 people gathered in the Panathenaic Stadium, ready for the biggest athletic event of the 19th century.
There were 43 events in nine sports. As in the ancient Olympics, only men took part. The winners got a silver medal for first place and a bronze medal for second. Third place did not receive medals.
The Greek athletes did very well: they earned 10 silver and 17 bronze medals. Nineteen athletes placed 3rd.
Of all these winners one became a hero, known by all Greeks: a young shepherd from Maroussi named Spyros Louis. He finished first in the Marathon race seven minutes before the second athlete, also Greek, entered the stadium.
An event like the Olympic Games could not pass by without incidents, and, sure enough, an unusual incident happened: one woman decided to run the Marathon race. Her name was Stamati Revithi. Since women were not allowed to participate in the events, Stamati decided to run by herself the day after the official race. She ran all the way to the stadium, but was not allowed to get inside to reach the finishing line! Later, the organizers named her Melpomene, because they could not even remember her name....
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The revival of the Olympic Games
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