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History of Modern Olympics

History | 9-12 yrs | Interactive, Learning Pod

The Olympic Games is an international event where athletes from all over the world compete in various sporting events. They are a rebirth of an ancient tradition where citizens from city states of Asia minor (now Greece) would compete in athletic events, as part of a larger political and religious celebration. There are 2 types of Olympic games- the summer and winter games which happen every 4 years. However, they are spaced in such a way that there is an Olympic event every 2 years.


The ancient Olympic games were revived by King Iphitos in 776 BC. Two early attempts to revive the Olympic tradition in the modern era included –

  • The Wenlock Agricultural Reading Society, backed by William Penny Brookes, started a class called ‘The Olympian Class’.
  • They promoted outdoor activities and sports and organized events and public meetings to present the winners with awards. The first meeting was held in October, 1850.
  • The Zappas Olympics, sponsored by wealthy Greek businessman Evangelis Zappas, were started in Athens, Greece in 1859.
  • He organized for the games to be hosted as well as provided funds to build an infrastructure to support the games.

International Olympic Committee –

In 1890, educationalist Baron Pierre de Coubertin was inspired to build upon the philosophies of Brookes and Zappas and formed the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is responsible for organizing the Olympics.

Early Games (1896 – 1906)

The 1896 summer Olympics were commissioned by the IOC to be held in Athens, Greece. Although the event was successful, more than 200 of the 245 contestants were from Greece itself.

The following games were held during the world fairs in Paris (1900) and St. Louis (1904). These two events threatened the survival of the games because they were side-shows to the exciting world fairs and like the 1896 Olympics in Athens, the majority of the athletes in St. Louis were from the United States. One notable difference of the 1900 Paris games was that women were officially allowed to compete for the first time in Olympic history, both ancient and modern.

First Modern Olympics –

  • The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece in April, 1896. As many as 280 athletes attended the games. However, no women were allowed to participate.
  • The first women athletes participating in the games held in Paris, France in 1900.

However, in 1906 the IOC held an intermediate games in Athens which was attended by 18 different countries and like the 1st games (which were held in the same location) it was a stand-alone event that people came to spectate from all over the world.

From then on the Olympic games have become an international event as visioned by the father of the modern Olympics, Baron Coubertin, as one that promotes international understanding through the sports arena.

The Wenlock games and Evangelis Zappas’ Olympic games were only two forerunners of the modern Olympics. Can you find out about any others?

  • Learn about The History of the Ancient Olympic Games HERE.