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1896

First modern Olympics is held

On April 6, 1896, the first modern Olympic Games are held in Athens, Greece, with athletes from 14 countries participating.

The International Olympic Committee met for the first time in Paris in June 1894 and chose Greece as the site of the inaugural modern Olympiad. The ancient games are believed to have originated in 776 B.C. in Olympia, Greece, where athletes competed in one event: a foot race. Over the years, other events were added, including chariot racing, boxing, wrestling and the pentathlon. Participants, who were all young men from Greek city-states and colonies, often battled it out in the buff, as a way to celebrate the human body, and winners received olive branches. The last ancient Olympics are thought to have taken place in A.D. 393.

At the first modern Olympics, 241 male athletes (and no women) representing 14 nations competed in 43 events. America’s James Connolly became the first modern Olympic champion when he won the triple jump on the opening day of the Games. For his achievement, he was awarded a silver medal and an olive branch. Connolly later finished second in the high-jump event and took third in the long jump.

France, Great Britain, Germany and Greece had the largest number of athletes participating. Nevertheless, the U.S. took home the most first-place finishes (11) of any nation, followed by Greece (10) and Germany (6). All told, America placed first, second or third in 20 events while Greece scored in 46 events and Germany placed in 13 competitions. To the delight of the hometown crowd, Greek runner Spyridon Louis won the marathon. The first Olympiad closed on April 15, 1896.

The second Olympiad was held in Paris in 1900 with 997 athletes (22 of them women) from 24 countries competing in 95 events. The U.S. hosted the Olympics for the first time in 1904, in St. Louis. The third Olympiad marked the first time gold, silver and bronze medals were given out to first, second and third-place finishers.

Starting in 1992, the summer and winter games, which had traditionally been held in the same year every four years, took place two years apart. The Summer Games returned to Athens in 2004, with 10,625 athletes (4,329 women and 6,296 men) from 201 nations participating in 301 events.

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