The modern Olympics began in 1896 in Athens, Greece, after decades of interest in reviving the ancient games. The push for international competition was led by Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894. The first modern Olympics had 245 male athletes from 14 countries competing in 43 events. The ancient Olympic Games were held every four years in Olympia, Greece, and only Greek men were allowed to compete. Interest in reviving the ancient games began to increase after Greece’s war of independence from the Ottoman Empire. Coubertin was inspired by similar competitions held in Europe and organized a conference in Paris in 1894, leading to the formation of the International Olympic Committee. The first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896, and since then, the number of sports, events, and participants has dramatically increased.
The modern Olympics were first held in 1896 in Athens, Greece. They started after decades of growing interest in reviving the ancient games. Various Olympic-style games had been held since the 1600s, although they were small and mostly involved participants from the regions in which they were held. The push for international competition was spearheaded by a French baron named Pierre de Coubertin, who helped found the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894. The first modern Olympics took place two years later, when a total of 245 athletes – all men – from 14 countries competed in 43 events.
The Ancient Olympic Games
In ancient Greece, athletic festivals were held every four years in the city of Olympia and became known as the Olympic Games. Only men from Greece were allowed to compete and women were forbidden to even watch. The earliest known Olympic Games were held in 776 BC, but many historians believe they were probably held even earlier. The ancient games ended in AD 393, when the Roman emperor Theodosius banned them because he believed they were influenced by paganism.
Interest in reviving the ancient games began to increase after the war of independence of Greece from the Ottoman Empire, which lasted from 1821 to 1832. In 1856, Evangelos Zappas, a wealthy Greek businessman, made an offer to the King of Greece Otto to sponsor modern olympic games . These were held in 1859 in Athens, although only athletes from the Ottoman Empire and Greece attended. Zappas died in 1865, but his estate also sponsored the Olympic Games in 1870 and 1875 in Athens, where Zappas had paid to have the ancient Panathenaic Stadium restored for the games.
Similar competitions had been held off and on in other parts of Europe since at least the early 1600s. Like Zappas’ Olympic Games in Athens, though, they mostly included athletes from the areas where the competitions were held. One example was the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games, which have been held in Shropshire, England every year since 1850. It was the Wenlock Olympian Games that inspired Pierre de Coubertin to revive the ancient Olympics as an international competition held every four years.
In 1894, Coubertin organized a conference in Paris, where he presented his idea to reinstate the Olympic Games to athletic officials in nine countries. After a unanimous vote in favor of reviving the games, Coubertin was tasked with forming a committee to organize them, and thus the International Olympic Committee was born. With funds again provided by the estate of Evangelos Zappas, the IOC held the first modern Olympics in 1896 at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, which had been further renovated for the games. The 43 events organized that year covered nine different sports: track and field, swimming, gymnastics, cycling, weightlifting, tennis, wrestling, fencing and shooting.
Since the renewal of the Olympics, many changes have taken place. Women began competing in 1900, and winter sports were added in 1908. Beginning in 1924, the games were separated into the Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics, and until 1992, both were held in the same year every four years. In 1994, the Winter Olympics were held after just a two-year cycle and then reverted to a four-year cycle, so that the Summer and Winter Games alternated every other year. By the turn of the 21st century, the number of sports, events and participants had dramatically increased, with the Summer and Winter Games combining to include more than 12,000 athletes in more than 360 events per cycle.