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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.


There were a couple of attempts to revive the Olympic tradition. One was called the Wenlock Olympian Games started by William Penny Brookes, an English intellectual and another called the Olympic Games started by Evangelis Zappas, a wealthy Greek-Romanian businessman and philanthropist. Both men believed believed that personal betterment and community could be promoted through sport and spent large amounts of personal funds to promote this idea.

In 1890, educationalist Baron Pierre de Coubertin attended the Wenlock games in Shropshire, England and was inspired to create an organised sporting where athletes from all over the world could attend. He built upon the philosophies of Brookes and Zappas to form the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is responsible for organising this international sporting event.

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.

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