Athletics at the 1896 Summer Olympics

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Athens 1896 report cover.jpg
The renovated Panathinaiko Stadium.

At the 1896 Summer Olympics, the first modern Olympiad, twelve athletics events were contested. A total of 25 medals (12 silver for winners, 13 bronze for runner-up, none for third) were awarded. The medals were later denoted as 37 modern medals (12 gold, 13 silver, 12 bronze). All of the events except the marathon were held in the Panathinaiko Stadium, which was also the finish for the marathon. Events were held on 6 April, 7 April, 9 April, and 10 April 1896 (all dates are according to the Gregorian calendar). Altogether, 64 athletes, all men, from ten nations competed. This made athletics the most international of the nine sports at the 1896 Games.

The American team of 11, which featured only one national champion, was dominant, taking 9 of the 12 titles. No world records were set, because few international top competitors had participated. In addition, the curves of the track were very tight, making fast times in the running events virtually impossible.

The heats of the 100 metres were the first Olympic event to be conducted, and the winner of the first heat, Francis Lane, can thus be considered the first Olympic winner. The first Olympic champion was crowned in the triple jump, Harvard student James Connolly. Connolly also did well in the other jumping events, placing second in the high jump and third in the long jump.

Many other athletes were versatile as well. Thomas Burke won both the 100 metres and 400 metres, a feat not since repeated, while London-based Australian Edwin Flack won the 800 and 1500 metres races. Robert Garrett, a Princeton student, won two first and two second places. His first title was in the discus throw, an event originating from the Ancient Olympics, but never before held at an international event. Garrett had attempted to train for the event with a 10 kilogram replica of a discus, but had given up as it was too heavy. When he learned the actual competition discus weighed only 2 kilograms, he entered the event after all, and won it, to the dismay of the Greek public, who considered their throwers "unbeatable".

A second event held for the first time in international competition was the marathon foot race. It was conceived by Michel Bréal, a friend of Pierre de Coubertin, based on the legend of Pheidippides. This Athenian soldier first completed a two-day run to seek Spartan help against the invading Persians in the Battle of Marathon, and then ran from the town of Marathon to Athens days later to announce the victory, dying as a result of his heroic efforts. The race started in Marathon, and ran for 40 kilometres over dusty roads to Athens. The Greek public, disappointed as there had not yet been a Greek victor in athletics, was overjoyed when it was announced during the race that a Greek runner had taken the lead. When Spiridon Louis, a water carrier from Maroussi, arrived in the stadium he was accompanied by the Greek Crown Prince on his final lap. Louis would never again compete in a race, but his victory made him a national hero.

The exploits of Louis, Garrett, Connolly, and Flack would be chronicled in the 1984 NBC miniseries, The First Olympics: Athens, 1896.

Medal summary[edit]

These medals were retroactively assigned by the International Olympic Committee; at the time, winners were given a silver medal and runners-up bronze medals. Athletes coming third received no award.

Event Gold Silver Bronze
100 metres
details
Thomas Burke
 United States
12.0 Fritz Hofmann
 Germany
12.2 Francis Lane
 United States
12.6
Alajos Szokolyi
 Hungary
400 metres
details
Thomas Burke
 United States
54.2 Herbert Jamison
 United States
55.2 Charles Gmelin
 Great Britain
56.7
800 metres
details
Edwin Flack
 Australia
2:11.0 Nándor Dáni
 Hungary
2:11.8 Dimitrios Golemis
 Greece
2:28.0
1500 metres
details
Edwin Flack
 Australia
4:33.2 Arthur Blake
 United States
4:33.6 Albin Lermusiaux
 France
4:36.0
110 metre hurdles
details
Thomas Curtis
 United States
17.6 Grantley Goulding
 Great Britain
17.6 none awarded
Marathon
details
Spiridon Louis
 Greece
2:58:50 Charilaos Vasilakos
 Greece
3:06:03 Gyula Kellner
 Hungary
3:06:35
High jump
details
Ellery Clark
 United States
1.81 m James Connolly
 United States
1.65 m none awarded
Robert Garrett
 United States
Pole vault
details
William Hoyt
 United States
3.30 m Albert Tyler
 United States
3.20 m Evangelos Damaskos
 Greece
2.60 m
Ioannis Theodoropoulos
 Greece
Long jump
details
Ellery Clark
 United States
6.35 m Robert Garrett
 United States
6.00 m James Connolly
 United States
5.84 m
Triple jump
details
James Connolly
 United States
13.71 m Alexandre Tuffère
 France
12.70 m Ioannis Persakis
 Greece
12.52 m
Shot put
details
Robert Garrett
 United States
11.22 m Miltiadis Gouskos
 Greece
11.03 m Georgios Papasideris
 Greece
10.36 m
Discus throw
details
Robert Garrett
 United States
29.15 m Panagiotis Paraskevopoulos
 Greece
28.95 m Sotirios Versis
 Greece
27.78 m

Medal table[edit]

RankNationGoldSilverBronzeTotal
1 United States (USA)96217
2 Australia (AUS)2002
3 Greece (GRE)13610
4 Hungary (HUN)0123
5 France (FRA)0112
 Great Britain (GBR)0112
7 Germany (GER)0101
Totals (7 nations)12131237

Participating nations[edit]

Hungarian athletic team of 1896 Summer Olympics

A total of 64 athletes from 10 nations competed at the Athens Games:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • International Olympic Committee results database
  • Lampros, S.P.; Polites, N.G.; De Coubertin, Pierre; Philemon, P.J. & Anninos, C. (1897). The Olympic Games: BC 776 – AD 1896. Athens: Charles Beck. (Digitally available at [1])
  • Mallon, Bill & Widlund, Ture (1998). The 1896 Olympic Games. Results for All Competitors in All Events, with Commentary. Jefferson: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0379-9. (Excerpt available at [2])
  • Smith, Michael Llewellyn (2004). Olympics in Athens 1896. The Invention of the Modern Olympic Games. London: Profile Books. ISBN 1-86197-342-X.