Modern Olympic games before 1896

Already in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries local 'Olympic games' were held in several places in Europe, e.g. the 'Cotswold Olimpick Games' at Chipping Campden (Gloucestershire in England), founded about 1610 by Robert Dover, with contests in running, wrestling, fencing with sticks, … Musicians, acrobats, poets and fireworks created a festive atmosphere.

More 'Olympic games' followed in the nineteenth century. In the English village Much Wenlock doctor William Brookes founded in 1850 the Wenlock Olympian Games, with athletic events like running and the long and high jump and typical English sports like cricket. Wanting more than local games, Brookes organized the first regional Olympic games in 1860. His friend John Hulley - inventer of the motto 'Mens sana in corpore sano' - organized in 1862 the first Liverpool Olympic games. Together they organized several national Olympian games. The most successful of these (London, 1866) attracted no less than 10,000 spectators. Brookes was the first person who envisaged international Olympic games. Despite many letters to influential Greeks, he could not realize this dream.

In 1829 Greece became independent. The poet Soutsos dreamt of connecting this young nation with the glorious Greek past through a revival of the Olympic games. Around 1850 the millionaire Evangelis Zappas became convinced of Soutsos' plan. He payed for the organization and the restoration of the ancient stadion of Herodes Atticus, which was used in Antiquity for the Panathenaic games. These national Greek Olympic games were held for the first time in 1859. The second games of 1870 were a major success, the later games of 1875 and 1888 a fiasco. In 1891 and 1893 crown prince Constantine again organized Panhellenic games in Athens.

One year later, in 1894, baron Pierre de Coubertin - who had visited Brookes in Much Wenlock and was informed about the Greek games - founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and laid the basis of the modern international Olympic games, held for the first time in Athens in 1896.

© KU Leuven, 2012