Today, the Atlanta Olympics Commemorative Torch Runner Five-Dollar Gold Coin remembers the first day of the Modern Games.
Two newspapers, one from 1995 and one from 1896, provide insights into The Games.
From the Chattanooga Press of September 13, 1995:
Great moments in Olympic history…
The first meeting of the revived Olympics took place in Athens, Greece, in 1896, with twelve nations besides Greece sending athletes.
Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Chili, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States succeeded in fielding athletes, and 10 of those countries would claim at least one Olympic award.
The United States sent the largest delegation —13—to the Games, matching the number of countries with athletes.
The Americans set out for Athens aboard a tramp steamer on March 20, 1896, under the assumption the Olympics would begin on April 18. The ship arrived in Naples, Italy, about April 1, when the Yanks learned The Games were scheduled to open April 6. They arrived shortly before the opening ceremonies, weary and out of shape.
Before 80,000 spectators, King George I proclaimed the opening of the Modern Games on April 6, 1896.
In addition to track and field, competition in the first Modern Olympiad included swimming, wrestling, weightlifting, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting and lawn tennis.
The first final was the triple jump, with first going to James B. Connolly of the United States, a college freshman who had been refused a leave of absence from Harvard to compete in The Games. He quit school, traveled to Athens at his own expense and made his college proud of him by winning the event.
He was an easy winner with a jump of 45 feet, the first modern Olympic champion and successor to the long line that had ended with the ancient boxer Varastad.
Connelly’s victory was saluted by the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” and the raising of the American flag, practices that have been a part of the Olympic ceremonies ever since.
Shot-putter Robert Garrett, captain of the Princeton track and field team, surprised Greek champion Panagiotis Paraskevopoulos to win the discus, an event unfamiliar to most Americans.
Garrett had practiced with a homemade steel model which he thought approximated the regulation discus.
It did, except for one major difference.
It was considerably heavier than the Greek model, so Garrett was ready when he reached Athens and won with a final throw of 95 feet, 7.5 inches, beating the Greek champion by more than seven inches.
From the Meriden [CT] Daily Journal of April 7, 1896:
The Hellenic Games
America’s Representatives Win a Number of Events
Garrett’s Phenomenal Throw
He Hurls the Discus 20.13 Meters—More than 40,000 Persons Witness the Games—Awarding the Olive Crowns.
Athens, April 7. — Yesterday began the 776th Olympiad, in which athletes from several countries participated.
The Americans who took part in the games were the victors in several of the events, despite the fact that they have been here a very short time and had little practice after their long ocean voyage.
The weather was mild, but cloudy. Early in the morning it was feared that the games would have to be postponed because of the rain that fell Sunday, but later it was decided that the grounds within the Stadion were in sufficiently good condition to allow of the opening events taking place.
More than 40,000 person were admitted to the Stadion including the king of Greece, the duke of Sparta, the crown prince; and other members of the royal family, the members of the diplomatic corps and many other prominent persons.
These 40,000, however, were not the only ones who witnessed the games. The Stadion has no roof and on each side of it rise hills from which a good view can be had within the walls.
These hills were fairly black with spectators, thousands of whom were too poor to pay the small price of admission to the Stadion, but who were determined to see the revival of the ancient Greek festival.
The sight was a remarkable one, and seldom has such interest and enthusiasm been displayed over any event in the Grecian capital.
The Americans who took part in the events appeared to be in excellent form, and they won their victories with much apparent ease.
Some of the Events.
For the discus throwing the following Americans were entered: Captain Robert Garrett of Princeton university and Etlery H. Clark of Harvard, a member of the Boston Athletic association. Garrett won.
The first heat of the 100 meter race was won by F. W. Lane of Princeton in 12 1-5 seconds.
Szokoly, a Hungarian, was second.
The second heat was won by T. P. Curtis of the Boston Athletic association, whose time was 12 1-5 seconds, the same as Lane’s. M. Chalkokondylis, an Athenian, was second.
The third heat was won by T. F. Burke of the Boston Athletic association in 11 4-5 seconds. Hoffman, a German, was second.
In the hop, step and jump Connelly covered 13 7-10 meters. Tufferi, a Frenchman, was second.
In the first heat of the 400 meters race H. B. Jamison of Princeton was first and the German, Hoffman, second.
The second heat was won by Berne, and Englishman, with Gimolin second.
The first heat of the 800 meter race was won by Flack, an Austrian, Lermusiaux, a Frenchman, won the second heat.
All the finals will be run on Friday.
Garrett’s Phenomenal Throw.
Garrett’s throw was considered something phenomenal by the spectators.
He threw the discus 29.13 meters, defeating the Greek champion, Paraskevopoules, by 19 centimeters.
The winners in several events were cordially applauded.
Everything passed off without a hitch, and the revival of the games has been most successful.
Awarding the Olive Crowns.
The progress of the games will be better understood by remembering that 100 meters are nearly equivalent to 109 yards and 400 meters to 437 yards.
The distance between Marathon and Athens is about twenty-eight miles.
While the complicated pentathlon, to win which was the chief glory of the Olympic games, is not revived, there will be medals for all-round excellence.
In order to secure the olive crown in the ancient event, one was compelled to excel at once in leaping, running, javelin throwing, throwing the quoit and wrestling.
The olive crowns that will be awarded to the victors will be made from material furnished from the same grove from which were taken the leaves and sprigs that formed the crowns of victory given to the victors more than fifteen centuries ago.
The Atlanta Olympics Commemorative Torch Runner Five-Dollar Gold Coin shows with images of Robert Garrett and James Connolly from The Games of 1896.