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This is a first person account of the first Olympic Games, held in the spring of 1896 in Athens, Greece. Written by Ellery Clark, this article was first published on March 9, 1911.

Part One - The First Olympic Team
Part Two - The Opening of the First Olympic Games
Part Three - The First Olympic Champion


Part Four - The First Marathon

Hours before the games began every seat was taken, the aisles and the space between the lowest tier of seats and the running-track were filled with people, the surrounding hills, as on the days preceding, were blackened with a dense throng. And in addition, from the entrance of the Stadium as far as the eye could see, people stood three and four deep, lining both sides of the road, eager to catch the first glimpse, or even the first news, of the Marathon runners, who were to start upon their long journey at noon. Altogether, at least one hundred and fifty thousand people must have been present upon the great final day.

The events in the Stadium were quickly decided. Burke won the final of the hundred meters. In the hurdles Curtis defeated Golding by inches, in the most exciting finish of the games; I won the high jump; and Hoyt, in a tussle with Tyler of Princeton, won the vault. He had a bad quarter of a minute, as I had had mine in the broad jump. With the bar up around ten feet, Tyler got over in safety, and Hoyt missed twice. I can remember now the anxiety with which I saw him come running down the path, on his last trial. He caught things right, and was over in safety, eventually to prove the winner.

The name of the last champion was announced; and then suddenly there fell silence over the Stadium. The same thought rose in every mind, "Who wins the Marathon?"

Slowly the moments dragged, and then, on a sudden, a murmur rose in the long line of watchers outside the entrance, a murmur grew to a shout, and then swelled to a vast roar: "A Greek! A Greek wins!" And a moment later, panting, dusty, travel-stained, but still running true and strong, Spiridon Louis, a young Greek peasant, burst into the Stadium, the winner of the race, and the idol of his people.

For a few moments the wildest confusion reigned. Snow-white doves, decked with ribbons of blue and white, -the national colors,- were set free in the enclosure; flowers, money, jewelry were showered upon the victor; and completing the cicuit of the track, with the crown prince and Prince George upon either side, Louis was borne away to the dressing-rooms on the shoulders of the crowd. The second and third places were also won by Greeks, and the fourth by a Hungarian.


THE START OF THE FIRST MARATHON
(The original article lists this photo as a picture of the 1896 start, but it is most likely a shot of the 1906 race. Thanks to Daniel Justribó for that info.)

The history of the race was most interesting. Lermusiaux, the Frenchman, started out at a terrific pace, and at ten miles was far in the lead, with Flack second and Blake third. Then the Frenchman's strength failed him, and he had to stop. Blake, running strongly and easily up to fifteen miles, at that point suddenly collapsed and fell, unable to continue. A few miles farther on Flack followed suit; and then the Greeks, who had wisely set a slower pace, came to the front, and fought it out for the first three places among themselves.

Thus the games came to an end; yet the interest of the trip was still to continue. On the 11th we watched the bicycle races and the the swimming, and in the evening were given a reception by Admiral Selfridge on the San Francisco, then lying off the city, in the Piraeus. I have the "Programme of Music" by me as I write: "The Washington Post," "Tommy Atkins," "The Bowery" - eloquent reminders of the swift passage of the years.

For the next few days events crowded upon us. Breakfast at the palace with the King, a ball, a picnic with the royal family, the day when the prizes - cups, medals, diplomas, twigs of wild olive - were presented at the Stadium. It was a time to be remembered.

Other Olympic games, held later, were to attract greater numbers of athletes, were to result in the making of more remarkable records; but for the time itself, nothing could equal this first revival. The flavor of the Athenian soil, the feeling of the helping to bridge the gap between old and new - the indefinable poetic charm of knowing oneself thus linked with the past, a successor to the heroic figures of old, the splendid sportsmanship of the whole affair. There is but one first time in everything, and that first time was gloriously and in a manner ever to be remembered the privilege of the American team of 1896.

And there was something more in store for us - our welcome home. None of us realized the interest which the games had awakened in our native city, and to be met in New York by special cars, bearing our city fathers, come to welcome us - it was sublime! The railroad-station was thronged with a surging crowd. Banquets at the Boston Athletic Association and under the auspices of the city, the presence of the governor and the mayor, a public reception in the old Faneuil Hall - verily wonder succeeded wonder, and it was almost with the feeling that we had been living in a land of shadowy romance that we settled down again to the quiet routine of every day.


Ellery Harding Clark A.B., LL.B. (Harvard). Lawyer; formerly a member of the Boston school board and of the Boston board of aldermen. For four years a member of the Harvard track team; represented the United States at the Olympic Games at Athens, 1896, winning high and broad jumps; all-round athletic champion of New England, 1896, 1897, 1909; all-round athletic champion of America, 1897, 1903; author of law treatises, novels and books on athletics.
  

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