April 6, 1896 Opening Day to Olympiad I: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

opening ceremony 1896 Olympics
Panathenaic Stadium a the 1896 Athens Olympics

Pierre de Fredy, Baron de Coubertin‘s dream had come true. He had a singular passion to revive the ancient Olympic games, bring nations together in peace, athleticism and sportsmanship, creating the first ever international sports body, the International Olympics Committee, and then organizing the first modern Olympic Games.

It was 120 years ago today when tens of thousands packed a stadium in Athens, Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics to witness an international sporting event of a scale never seen before. While only 10 nations and 64 athletes competed at the 1896 Athens Games, the 2012 London Games had over 200 nations represented and over 10,700 participants.

100m Athens 1896
100 meters at the Athens Games

With the first Olympiad, a bar was set with every finish. And from that point on, performance was measured on beating the best scores set at a global scale. Coubertin proposed the Latin words, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” as the Olympic motto, which means “Faster, Higher, Stronger”.

The Olympics created a revolution of sports measurement, creating new goals and aspirations for people all over the world. Below is a comparison of results in the years 1896 and 2012. Yes, this is a period of 116 years, but every year, thousands of people were driven by the very best scores established at international and then national sporting events.

1896 vs 2012 results

One of my favorite New York Times videos is one that explains how fast the fastest man in the world has become, comparing every Olympic champion since Thomas Burke in 1896 to Usain Bolt in 2012. As this video dramatically shows, Bolt would have beaten Burke by over 18 meters, or 60 feet!