Baron Coubertin's Olympian effort

In June 1894, at an international conference on sport in Paris, 79 delegates from nine countries unanimously gave the thumbs up to Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s proposal of staging the Games once every four years. This paved the way for the formation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the conduct of the inaugural Olympics in Athens in 1896. Sportstar outlines the progression of the world’s biggest quadrennial event.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin... the father of the modern Olympic Games.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

The first Olympic Games of the modern era was held in Athens in 1896. This revived the Games about 1500 years after they were banned by the Roman Emperor, Theodosius I, in 393 AD.

Historical evidences maintain that the first recorded Olympic Games was held at Olympia in 776 BC, though it is generally accepted that the Olympics was first hosted 500 years before that. Initially, the Games were dedicated to Olympian Gods, and they were held in the plains of Olympia. This continued for 12 centuries.

Through the 18th and 19th centuries, Europe’s fascination for the ancient Greek culture saw informal sports and folkloric festival held in the name of “Olympic Games”.

Finally, the untiring efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin — the man who proposed the revival of the tradition of holding this major international sports event once every four years — bore fruit.

In June 1894, at an international conference on sport in Paris, 79 delegates from nine countries unanimously gave the thumbs up to Coubertin’s proposal. This paved the way for the formation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the inaugural Olympics was proposed to be held in Athens.

1896: Held in Athens (Greece) from April 6 to 15, a total of 214 men from 14 countries participated in the Games. Women were barred from taking part. Competitions were held in 10 disciplines spread over 43 events. The United States topped the medals tally with 11 gold, seven silver and two bronze medals.

Ancient Greece was considered an obvious choice, being the birthplace of the Olympic Games. The 43 disciplines covered track and field events, gymnastics, swimming, cycling, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, shooting and tennis.

1900: Held in Paris (France) from May 14 to October 28, a total of 997 athletes from 24 nations participated. For the first time, 22 women took part. Twenty disciplines offered 85 events. France tallied 101 medals (26 gold, 41 silver and 34 bronze).

The first Games to be organised under the IOC, the last summer Games of the 19th century saw no opening or closing ceremony. Paris hosted the event after a six-year wait from the day the revival of the Games became a reality. The Games was held as part of the 1900 World’s Fair. With women being allowed to participate, sailor Helene de Poutales gained the honour of being the first female Olympic champion. Instead of gold, silver medals were awarded to the winners, while bronze went to the runners-up. The IOC later assigned gold, silver and bronze medals to those who made it to the podium.

Professional fencers like Albert Robert Ayat received 3000 francs for winning the epee for amateurs and masters.

Interestingly, events like cricket, croquet, Basque pelota, automobile and motorcycle racing, ballooning, underwater swimming and 200m obstacle race in swimming were never included after these Games.

1904: Held in St. Louis (USA) from July 1 to November 23. In all, 12 countries sent 651 athletes, including six women. Ninety-four events were held in 17 disciplines. USA regained its position at the top of the table with 78 gold, 82 silver and 79 bronze medals.

The Games moved out of Europe and for the first time, a majority English-speaking nation, the United States, played the host. Chicago had won the bid to host but the Louisiana Purchase Exposition threatened to hold its own international sports events aimed at taking the attention away from the Olympic Games unless it was moved to St. Louis. Coubertin gave in and awarded the rights to hold the Games to St. Louis.

As expected, the United States dominated the Games, like never seen before or after. Compare this: USA won 239 medals while second-best Germany aggregated only 13 — the break-up being four gold, four silver and five bronze medals!

1908: Held in London (United Kingdom) from April 27 to October 31. Twenty-two nations sent 2008 athletes, including 37 women. Competitions were held in 110 events from 25 disciplines. Britain topped with a tally of 56 gold, 51 silver and 39 bronze medals.

Originally allotted to Rome, the Games had to be moved to London after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius devastated Naples and the funds had to be diverted to the reconstruction of the city. It was at this Olympics that the distance for the marathon was standardised to 26 miles — from 25 miles — to ensure the race would finish in front of the King.

The Games, for the first time, included winter disciplines — four figure skating events — and they were held in October after all other events.

John Taylor became the first African-American to receive a gold medal after being part of the American medley relay squad.

1912: Held in Stockholm (Sweden) from May 5 to July 22, 2407 athletes, including 48 women, from 28 countries participated in the Games. A total of 102 events from 18 disciplines were held. The United States won back its top spot in the standings by claiming 25 gold, 19 silver and 19 bronze medals.

It was here that electric timing was introduced in athletics. Boxing was not included at the behest of the host nation.

Sweden won 65 medals — two more than the United States — but finished second on the gold count. Sweden won 24 to USA’s 25. For the first time, “art competitions” were included in the Olympic Games.

Medals were awarded for literature, sculpture, music, painting and architecture. Interestingly, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the man known as the father of modern Olympic movement and the then IOC President, won the gold for literature after taking part under the pseudonyms of Georges Hohrod and Martin Eschbach from Germany.

Interestingly, the light heavyweight wrestling bout involving Sweden’s Andres Ahlgren and England’s Ivar Bohling lasted over nine hours. The verdict was a draw and both received a silver medal each.

1916: The Olympics was awarded to Berlin but not held due to World War I.

1920: Held in Antwerp (Belgium) from April 20 to September 12. A total of 29 nations sent 2626 participants, including 65 women, to take part in 156 events from 29 disciplines. The United States once again topped the table with 41 gold, 27 silver and 27 bronze medals.

The resumption of the Games after World War I saw Germany, Hungary, Austria, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, who were held responsible for starting the War, being banned. In fact, Germany remained banned until 1925. The Games saw the introduction of the Olympic Oath and doves were released as a symbol of peace and, also for the first time, the Olympic flag was flown.

Sweden’s Oscar Swahn became the oldest Olympic champion at 72 years and 279 days, after being part of the winning team in the running deer double-shot event. In fact, in the 1908 Games, he won the gold in the running deer event.

Paavo Nurmi left his footprints on these Games, as the “Flying Finn” won the 10000m, individual and team cross country titles and the silver in 5000m.

1924: Held in Paris (France) from May 4 to July 27. The Games attracted 3089 athletes, including 135 women, from 44 nations. Competitions were held in 126 events from 23 disciplines. The United States remained at the top of the table, winning 45 gold, 27 silver and 27 bronze medals.

The Games saw the introduction of standard 50m swimming pool with marked lanes. The marathon distance was fixed at 42.195 kilometres, from the distance (26 miles) set at the 1908 Olympics.

The Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius (meaning faster, higher, stronger) was first used in this Games. Also for the first time, an Olympic Village was made for the participants.