Athens and two modern Olympic GamesJuly 18th, 2012 - 6:43 pm ICT by IANS
Athens, July 18 (IANS) The year was 1896. The Panathinaiko Stadium, in central Athens, reconstructed from the ruins of an ancient venue, is hosting the first ever modern Olympics, a continuation of the ancient Hellenic ethos of fair competition and unity through sport.
The brainchild of the French baron Pierre de Coubertin, the Olympic Games, albeit in a revised modern form, were held once again after more than 2000 years of dormancy, with 14 countries participating, and with nine different events: athletics, swimming, wrestling, fencing, weightlifting, shooting, tennis, gymnastics and cycling.
Baron Coubertin, a French educationalist and historian, was born in 1863. He had been interested in physical exercise since his youth. In the 1800s, athletics and physical fitness were promoted as a way to improve health, and Pierre indulged in boxing, rowing and running as a young man.
Coubertin studied classical history, and along with his interest in physical education, bringing him to the conclusion that the unity of physical and mental education reached its peak in ancient Greece, where young men visited gymnasia, facilities in which both training for public sporting events and socialization took place, and where philosophical, intellectual and artistic education were held.
In 1889, Coubertin came up with the idea of organising an international sports competition, and spent the next few years gathering delegates from different countries in order to materialize such an event.
In the year of 1892, at a jubilee of the French Union of Athletic Sports Societies, Coubertin presented his ideas of the modern Olympic Games. However, his ideas were not very clear and not even Coubertin himself was sure on how to host the games.
In June 1894, Coubertin held a congress in Paris with representatives from 11 international societies, to discuss the sporting event, and gained approval. Initially, the suggested date was the year of 1900, in order to coincide with the Universal Exposition in Paris; however it was decided that postponing the games for six years will cause the public to lose interest, so the date was set for the year 1896.
The venue chosen to hold the majority of the games was the ancient Panathinaiko Stadio (The pan-Athenian stadium), which was built in antiquity, and reconstructed in 1870 with the financing of Konstantinos Zappas and Evangelis Zappas, two wealthy entrepreneurs.
The 1896 games lasted for nine days, beginning with an opening ceremony, April 6. King George I of Greece and his wife Olga attended the event, and the games were opened with the words “I declare the opening of the first international Olympic Games in Athens. Long live the Nation. Long live the Greek people.”
Unlike the games held now, the first place winners did not win a gold medal, instead they received a silver medal with an olive branch, and athletes who were second placed received a copper medal.
The games concluded April 15. Greece received the most overall medals with 46 in total, and the United States won the most gold medals, with 11 in total.
However, the 1896 Olympic Games were fundamentally different in the fact that women were not allowed to compete, like the ancient Olympics, resulting in a woman, Stamata Revithi, running the marathon course on her own, stating “if the committee doesn’t let me compete I will go after them regardless”.
A monumental landmark in Greek history and also sport history, the 1896 Olympic Games was an epoch of modern sport. Costing over 1 million gold Drachmas, it was funded by the Greek national benefactor, Georges Averoff.
Fast forward to 1997, 101 years have passed since the first games were held. Out of five countries Greece was chosen to be the host of the 2004 games, after their unsuccessful bid for the 1996 games.
However, all was not well with Athens. In 2004, Athens was congested, polluted and accommodation in the city was limited, and many Greeks doubted whether their home country would be able to hold the games successfully.
The costs calculated for the games were huge, with estimates being around 10 billion euros. Athens would receive many new sporting venues in order to accommodate the games and, to ease congestion in the city, a new light rail transit system would be built.
The centrepiece of the venues was the Athens Olympic Sport Complex, which housed the Olympic Stadium, Indoor Hall, Velodrome, Aquatic Center and the Tennis Center. Built upon the site of an earlier venue, the complex was designed by celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Unfortunately, construction was heavily delayed throughout the whole process of construction and budget by budget was overrun. The spending on security alone was more than 1.2 billion euros.
But much to the relief of everyone, the necessary infrastructure was completed on time. The lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame took place on March 25, 2004, and the relay reached the Athens Olympic Sport Complex on Aug 13.
The 2004 games lasted for 18 days and 28 sports were on stage. In all, 201 countries and regions took part in the Games, more than 14 times the 1896 games number. After 930 medals in 301 different events, the games drew to a conclusion on Aug 29, 2004.
The Modern Olympic Games have evolved drastically since 1896; more and more delegations have participated, and true harmony and the competitive spirit have shone through; even though the games have evolved in form, Coubertin’s vision and the ancient Greek spirit still stay alive.
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Tags: ancient greece, artistic education, athletic sports, baron pierre, brainchild, central athens, classical history, dormancy, french union, international societies, international sports competition, mental education, modern olympic games, olympic games, olympic games athens, panathinaiko stadium, physical education, physical exercise, physical fitness, socialization