The Revival of the Olympic Games (1896-2004)


The Revival came as the result of ideals from different starting points.

Recollections from Ancient Greek History were introduced in the European Education from the beginning of Renaissance (16th century A.D.). Such motives became stronger later on   in the frames of European the Enlightenment (18th century) and after the French Revolution (1789-1795). On the other hand, during the 19th century the educators began to introduce the gymnastics – the body training - and athletic ideals   in the programmes of education. It was, therefore, easy to remember the athletic ideals coming from ancient civilizations and particularly from the Olympic Games of ancient Greeks.

          William Penny Brookes (1809-95) a doctor living in Much Weanlock in East Anglia, was the first, as far as we know, who tried to persuade his fellow citizens to accept gym as a part of every day life programme. And he renamed the athletic field into Olympian Field. Later on he suggested the idea for a National Olympian Association  to the established in Britain. A French baron, Pierre de Coubertin (1863- 1937) a younger admirer of Brooke’s attempt and of the British educational system, tried to introduce similar ideas to his country during the last fifth of the 19th century.

He came to the decision even to write a book under the title “L’ Education en Engleterre”. At the same time he knew about the successes of German Archaeological Society in Greece and wanted to do some thing to increase the international prestige of his country in that period. So  he came to a daring and fruitful thought: he suggested the idea for a Conference in Paris (University of Sorbonne) for the Revival of the Olympic Games (1894) on an international basis, for the whole Humanity of Modern Times.

When his convocation was announced and an invitation letter was received in Athens, many Steps towards this ideal had already been done by Greeks during the 19th century.

First step: During the Modern Greek Enlightenment some thinkers and fighters for the impendence of Greek nation, like Rigas Velestinlis, and Adamantios Korais had began to speak about the Olympic Games.

Second Step: Just after the War of  independence (1821-1832), a young poet, Panag. Soutsos, in his poetical collection, Nekricoi Dialogoi (Conversations between Deads), 1833,declared a first proposal for the Revival of the Olympic Games.

Third Step: A Greek emigrant living and working as a successful merchant in Roumania heard that poetical voice. He was from Epirus, named Evangelos Zappas. He lived with an ideal: to help somehow his mother-country. And he announced to the Greek Government (1856) his intention (his will): He was ready to pay everything, to give all his property, for the Revival of the Ancient Olympic Games in the modern city of Athens. The  Greek Minister of Foreign  Affairs in that period (1855-6), who undertook the duty to discuss the  details with Zappas, tried to persuade him that   for the Greek society of those days it wold be much better to  organize (by the Zappas’ money) an Exposition Center for the Greek agricultural and   industrial products every two  or four years and in the programme of the Exposition to include something of the Olympic Games. This  proposal was finally accepted  by Zappas and the first Exposition Games  was organized during 1859, called Olympia, when Brookes  was at the very beginning of his attempts to persuade his fellow citizens in Much Weanlock for the usefulness of Gym and for the name of Olympian Field.

Fourth Step: The Exposition  + Games Programme Olympia was continued during the following 30 years, four  times (the last one  in 1889), in the area extended from the Zappeion Megaron – completed in the meantime- to the old Stadion (nowadays called Kallimarmaron).  At the same time was organized the Panhellenic Athletic or Gymnastic Assosiation (1889),

Fifth Step:  When Greek Government received the invitation letter from Coubertin for the Conference in Paris (1894), the Greek society was prepared for two different answers:

The Government declared that the financial problems were many  and difficult; so it was impossible for the Government to undertake the Organization of the New Olympic  Games.

Other people – among them Demetrius Vikelas, Prince Konstantine, Mempers of the Panhellenic Gymnastic Association,  prof.   of History Sp. Lampros and others – were enthusiastic (fans) to promote the idea, believing that private assistance by rich Greeks –like Zappas, G. Averof, Andreas Sygros and  others – could be  enough for  the whole preparation.

The final decision was: to send Vikelas to the Conference in Paris (1894) as representative of Greece in order to undertake the Organization of the First Olympic Games (of 1896). For the short history of the modern International OlympicGames (1896-2004) we have the intention to prepare another short article. In the meantime we can give some information about the recent bibliography for this subject:

Evangelos Filippou, History of the Modern Olympic Games (1896-2000) (in Greek language, Athens, editions “Savallas”).

Michael Llewellyn Smith, Olympics in Athens 1896 (Profile Books, 2004).And  translated in to Greek language by Marg. Zachariadou (editions “Estia”, Athens, 2004).