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The Modern Olympic Games

The development of the Games

THE LEGACY OF THE PAST The first modern Olympic Games in 1896 featured many references to Greek Antiquity. They were held in Athens as a reminder that the Olympic Games originated in Greece. The majority of the competitions took place in the ancient stadium (the Panathenaic Stadium), which was restored for the occasion. Most of the sports on the programme of the ancient Olympic Games were echoed in the modern Games. The organisers even went as far as inventing a new race, inspired by a legendary event: the marathon race.

WHY THE MODERN OLYMPIC GAMES? In order to distinguish them from the ancient Olympic Games that took place in Olympia, Greece. The ancient Olympic Games end- ed in AD 393. It was over 1500 years before they were revived. [see sheets “The Olympic Games in Ancient Greece”].

INNOVATIONS Although the modern Olympic Games were inspired by the past, they have made some radical departures:

THE PANATHENAIC STADIUM in Athens hosted the ancient sports competitions known as the Panathenaea.


In contrast with the Olympic Games of Antiquity, each edition of the modern Games takes place in principle in a different city and country.


The ancient Olympic Games were the preserve of Greek citizens, whereas the modern Games are open to all. The 245 participants in Athens in 1896 came from 14 differ- ent countries. The Stockholm Games in 1912 were the first to boast the presence of national delegations from the five continents. The universality of the Olympic Games was assured.

THE MARATHON This race commemorates the ex- ploit of a soldier who, in 490 BC, ran from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in battle (distance: approx. 34.5 km). The marathon race has been on the Olympic programme since the Athens Games in 1896. The dis- tance run today is 42.195 km.


Following on from the traditions of Ancient Greece, the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 were an exclusively male preserve. When women made their Olympic debut four years later at the Paris Games in 1900, only two sports were open to them: tennis and golf. In early 20th century society, women athletes had to deal with a great deal of prejudice: there were fears that they would lose their femininity, grow unattractively muscular, or become sterile. Pierre de Coubertin himself was not in favour of the participation of wom- en in the Olympic Games:

“… the true Olympic hero, in my view, is the individual adult male.” Le Sport Suisse, 31st yea , 7 August 1935, p. 1.

This was the type of preconception the first female athletes were faced with. Gradually, they earned their place at the Games, sport by sport, and event by event.

© Olympic Museum and Studies Centre, Lausanne, 2002

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