On the face of it, the programme for the first modern Olympic Games, which were declared open on this day in 1896, had a remarkably modern feel about it.

All nine of the sports contested at the Games – a sailing and rowing competition was abandoned due to lack of interest – remain on the Olympics programme to this day.

Here, the PA news agency takes a closer look at the first example of the modern Games which would grow into the global phenomenon it is today.


Eliud Kipchoge
Spyros Louis would not have given Eliud Kipchoge a run for his money (Martin Rickett/PA Archive)

The athletics events, which were staged at the Panathiniako Stadium, were notable for being run clockwise around a cinder track. By far the most popular winner was the Greek Spyros Louis, who came home first in the marathon in a time of two hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds. Despite catapulting to fame, Louis would never race again, and spent time time in jail for fraud before being subsequently acquitted.


Adam Peaty
Adam Peaty would have been barred from part of the 1896 programme (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Arguably the most predictable of all Olympic clean-sweeps occurred in the men’s 100m freestyle for sailors. Only three athletes entered the race, which was remarkably specific in that it was only open to members of the Greek navy fleet which was docked at Piraeus. It was won by a 16-year-old called Ioannis Malokinis.


There were calls to make Athens the Olympics’ permanent home (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Huge crowds thronged the arenas during the 10-day event, and despite a requiring a last-minute injection of extra cash to ensure it could proceed as planned, it was considered a significant success. Indeed, it went so smoothly that a group of athletes and politicians lobbied its brainchild, Pierre de Coubertin, to make Athens the Games’ permanent home – an idea that would be mooted again in modern times.


Rio Olympic Games 2016 – Opening Ceremony
The modern Games owe a debt of gratitude to Athens 1896 (Mike Egerton/PA)

Over-ambition was to befall the Games in subsequent editions. The 1900 Paris Games was a bloated, six-month long affair consisting of 19 sports, including polo and tug-of-war. The 1904 Games in St Louis was equally ill-regarded, and it was not until London in 1908 that the Olympic movement truly heeded the lessons of Athens, and shaped an approach that is still recognisable in many aspects to this day.