Olympic Archives

The Ancient Olympics and the revival of the Modern Day Games

With 23 weeks left until the World’s Greatest Sporting Event, it’s time for Melosport to start publicising this year’s most eagerly anticipated event!

Every fortnight, I will be writing an article related to the Olympics, whether it’s about the history of the games, athletes to keep a close eye on, how London is shaping up and much, much more.

This week, Melosport starts by giving you a brief background of the Ancient Olympic Games and the revival of the Modern Day Games.


The gold and ivory statue of Zeus, created by Phidias the sculptor, looks on as the racers exit the final bend. With 50 yards to go, Coroebus, the humble baker from Elis, accelerates away from the pack and powers through to become Olympic Champion. The year is 776BC and the venue is Olympia, Greece. According to official records, Coroebus of Eli was the first ever Olympic Champion.

According to legend, it is believed that the Games were held way before Coroebus’s crowning moment and were created by Heracles, son of Zeus. However, it is also believed that the Olympics were held as a festival following a peace agreement between the states of Elis and Pisa.

The maiden 776BC Games contained only one event – the stadion. The stadion was, approximately, a 210 yard (192 metres) dash and was won by Coroebus.

As the Greek calendar was based on the Olympiad, the games were held every four years. Over time, more events were introduced to the Games. By the 18th Olympiad, a double stadion race, long distance race, wrestling and pentathlon were contested events. The pentathlon was made up of five events – running, jumping, throwing the discus and javelin, plus wrestling. Chariot races and boxing were also introduced.

The winners were crowned with a wreath made from a sacred olive tree located behind the temple of Zeus. The Ancient Olympic Games lasted for almost 1,170 years before they were abolished by Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I in 393 AD.

15 centuries later marked a one-man crusade to revive the Olympics. Pierre de Coubertin, a young French aristocrat, was only seven years old when his homeland was taken over by Germans during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Years later, it is claimed that Coubertin decided that the reason his country was overrun was, not because the French were lacking in military skills but, because French soldiers had a distinct lack of vigour. After examining British, American and German children, Coubertin concluded that exercise of a sporting nature was a positive attribute to achieving well-rounded and vigorous individuals. His conclusion did not go down well in France but nonetheless, he persisted.

In 1890, Coubertin established the Union des Sociétés Francaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA). Thanks to the Frenchman’s aristocratic background, he was very well-connected and in 1892, he organised a meeting with 79 delegates from nine different countries to discuss the revival of the Games. Coubertin’s determination paid off and the delegates agreed that the Olympic Games should be revived. The delegates also decided that Coubertin would be responsible for organising an Olympic committee which he did – the IOC (International Olympics Committee).

Dimitris Vikelas (left) was sworn in as the first President of the IOC and as such, the first Modern-day Olympic Games were held in Athens on 24th May 1896.

Coming soon on Melosport – The first modern Olympic Games – Athens 1896.


Categories: Olympic Archives

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