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Looking back at the Olympics 1896-1904

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Looking back at the Olympics 1896-1904

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ATHENS 1896

The first modern Olympic Games was held in Athens. According to the International Olympic Committee, 14 countries took part although exactly which countries remains a matter of debate. What is known is that host country Greece won the most medals, while the USA collected the most ‘gold’ medals, although at the time winners were presented with a silver medal, an olive branch and a certificate. The most successful athlete was Germany’s Carl Schuhmann (see picture below, Shuhmann on the left) who won the individual horse vault and wrestling as well as the team horizontal and parallel bar events. Local favourite Louis Spiridon became a Greek national hero by winning the marathon.

PARIS 1900

Women were allowed to compete for the first time in 1900 and tennis player Charlotte Cooper of Great Britain (see photo, right) was the first woman to win an Olympic event. The games included some sports such as underwater swimming, tug-of-war and cricket for the first and only time in Olympic history.

With the Games being part of the World’s Fair, events were spread out over a period of five months and many were not officially named ‘Olympic’, a fact that meant some competitors did not realise they were taking part in the Olympic Games. The performer of the Games was Alvin Kraenzlein of the USA, who won the 60 metre sprint, the 110 and 200 metre hurdles and the long jump.

ST LOUIS 1904

Like in Paris, the Games were held over a period of several months as part of the World’s Fair. That did little for the Olympic ‘brand’, along with the fact that many international athletes were unable to make the long and difficult journey to Missouri. This was the first Games in which Gold, Silver and Bronze medals were given to the top three competitors in each event. The USA finished with 239 medals, 226 more than second in the medal table, Germany. American gymnast George Eyser won six medals despite having a wooden leg, and his compatriot Archie ‘The Milwaukee Meteor’ Hahn won the 60, 100 and 200 metre sprints. In the latter, he set an Olympic record of 21.6 seconds that would not be broken for 28 years.

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