On the 6th April 1896, the first modern Olympic Games opened in Athens. Known as the father of the modern Olympics, Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin had organised a congress two years earlier in which the host city was chosen and the International Olympic Committee founded.

American James Connolly won the first final for his 13.71m triple jump, leading the USA’s 14 competitors to win a total of 11 events between them. The most successful individual competitor was the German Carl Schuhmann who won the team events in the horizontal bar and parallel bars events, the horse vault event and – despite being considerably smaller than his opponents – the wrestling competition. He didn’t receive any gold medals, however. Winners at the 1896 Olympics were instead presented with a silver medal, an olive branch, and a diploma. It wasn’t until 1904 that the tradition of awarding gold, silver and bronze medals to first, second and third place began.

The 1896 Summer Olympics did, however, lay down many traditions – not least of which was the first competitive marathon race. A Greek water carrier called Spyridon Louis won the race in a time of 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds. The same route, finishing at the stadium used in the 1896 games, was used when the Olympics returned to Greece in 2004. The winner finished almost 45 minutes faster than in the 1896 competition.

By the time of the 2004 games, however, the rope climbing competition that saw competitors climbing a 14m rope in 1896 had been removed.

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© Scott Allsop