- Participating nations: 14
- Number of athletes: 245 (men only)
- Time of year: April 6-15
- Number of events: 43
We have already touched on the problems between the Greek royal family and the government. A schism that ended with the resignation of the Greek government! (see Olympic history)
The Games themselves were financed through ticket sales, a national fundraiser, and by making a special collection of Olympic stamps. One expense that lacked coverage was the restoration of the ancient stadium in Athens. The Greek Crown Prince Constantine appealed to an extremely rich merchant who donated the amount - 585,000 drachmas. But before the restoration was finished, the merchant had had to pay a whopping 920,000 drachmas! This shows that even the organizers of the first Olympic Games had problems sticking to the initial budget.
Many of the problems and issues facing the ancient and early modern Games seem to reappear, sometimes with an almost eerie exactitude, to haunt the Olympic Games of today.
For the Games to be of the same caliber as the earlier attempts during the 19th century, it was important to make them as international as possible. One would then, of course, expect such fiery spirits as Balck and Coubertin to at least ensure the participation of their own nations.
One Swedish Participant!Balck did not exactly arrange an “Olympic drive" in Sweden to round up as many applications as possible. No, he just sat in his office waiting for those who were interested to get in touch with him. It turned out that only two people thought that going to the Olympic Games in Athens was a worthwhile endeavor.
Of the two people who were interested in going, only one, Henrik Sjöberg, could afford the trip. He paid for the trip to Athens out of his own pocket and with money given to him by his club. There were also lists put out in the local sports facilities, in an attempt to raise more money. It is not known how much money came from this collection.
Coubertin himself was only able to round up seven athletes, which can not be considered a great success on his part.
Our neighbors Denmark were much more active in their efforts to get a team together. They were able to collect 1,200 Danish crowns, enough money to send three athletes.
In Hungary, Ferenc Kemeny, an IOC member who had been elected in his absence in 1894, was able to send eight athletes to the game after receiving a government grant. The United States were able to send 13 athletes, most of them from Princeton and Harvard.
Interestingly enough, Germany had the biggest team, consisting of 21 athletes, despite the fact that, of all the countries, Germany was the strongest opponent of the Games.
The largest German sports association at the time felt that they would be committing treason if they were to participate in something as un-German as the Olympic Games, which, to make things worse, had been the result of a French initiative. France was Germany´s number one enemy at the time. But Germany had its own supporter of the Olympic spirit in a man called Willibald Gebhardt. He didn´t wait long before making use of his connections to people in high places. The German Emperor´s sister was married to Constantine, the Crown Prince of Greece, who was a strong supporter of the Games. Constantine was then able to get his wife to talk to her brother the Emperor, and convince him that the Olympic Games were not a French affair, but a Greek one. The Emperor´s positive attitude made Germany send a large team to Athens.
Olympic DarknessThis was a period of “Olympic darkness" in Great Britain. A little odd perhaps, considering all the local Games that had been held there over the years. But the two British IOC members showed a total lack of interest in the Games in Athens. Consequently, the British team was very small. Only five athletes went to Athens, and they did so on their own initiative.
The team did get a little bigger once they it arrived in Athens, two staff members from the British Embassy and a student, visiting Athens temporarily, joined the team.
Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, and Switzerland also sent a handful of athletes. But the Bulgarian, however, turned out to be Swiss. There was also a man from Italy who wanted to participate, but who failed to produce the required documentation to prove he was an amateur, and was consequently stopped from competing.
Out of the 260 athletes who competed in the Games, 80 came from countries outside of Greece.
After all these twists and turns, the Games were finally opened by King George I on April 6.
The Swedish participant, Henrik Sjöberg, probably had a pretty busy schedule. He competed in the 100 meter dash (he was eliminated in the first round), discus (7th), long jump (6th), gymnastics (result unknown) and high jump (4th).
Athens Trivia:Only the winner and first runner up received medals, silver and bronze respectively.
The first medal went to James B Connoly, from the United States, who won the triple jump by a large margin.
Hungarian Alfred Hajos dominated the swimming event. He also took part in the 1924 Olympics, that time in architecture!
The previously mentioned English student won the tennis tournament. His name was John P Boland, and he bought his tennis equipment on location in Athens.
All prize ceremonies took place on the last day of the Games, on April 15.
The Games were a success, and the Greeks wanted Athens to become a permanent host city of all future Olympic Games, yet another idea that has recently been debated. But Coubertin wanted the Games to move from city to city, and avoided dealing with the Greek proposal. The second Olympic Games would take place in Paris four years later, according to plan.