The inauguration, on April 6, 1896, of the Athens Games at the Panathinaikó stadium.imago images / Colorsport imago sportfotodienst via www.imago-images.de / Getty Images
125 years ago, on April 5, 1896, it rained to seas in Athens, but the next day the sun was shining at three in the afternoon, when the kings of Greece, Jorge (Danish) and Olga (Russian), entered the Panathinaikó stadium, all of white marble lined the first row of seats , and their thrones, covered in red velvet fabrics, to the cheers of 50,000 spectators to inaugurate the first Olympic Games of the modern era, the first to be held in more than 1,500 years. A few minutes later, with no opening parade or more ceremonial than the actual “I declare the first Games to be opened”, the athletics competition began with the 100-meter series and the first final, the long jump (actually, a kind of triple, hop, skip and jump ), which enshrined the North American James Connolly, 27, the son of Irish emigrants in Boston and a student at Harvard, who jumped 12.70 meters as the first Olympic champion.
During 10 days, 245 men from 15 countries competed in nine sports (athletics, swimming, gymnastics, cycling, fencing, weightlifting, shooting, tennis and wrestling) and 43 specialties. And a Greek shepherd, Spiridon Louis, became the first great sports hero of his country after winning the first marathon in history .
The 100-meter start in Athens 96.Getty Images / Getty Images
Nothing is further from the Current games, their gigantism, their commercialization, their great economic and cultural impact, the only major regularly scheduled event, along with the World Cup, capable of hitting billions of people simultaneously around the world on a television screen. “Athletics entered the world scene in the Sparta of Lycurgus [year 800 BC ] and was guided by pedagogy, by the search for the harmony of the human machine, the balance between body and spirit, by the joy of feeling alive ”, exalted Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the inventor of current Olympism , in 1894, an enthusiast of the“ internationalism and democracy ”that the Olympic competitions would spread throughout the world, when the first Games were still a utopia . “Later, profit crept in and the philosophy of sport darkened from year to year; the sport descended into the degrading arena of the Roman circus, and Christianity struck its last blows. We have had to wait for this century [late nineteenth] to see it reborn. ”
His accelerated account of the history of sports competitions can be interpreted a century and a quarter later as a prophecy of what would end up being, its inevitable transformation into a spectacle of masses. And the purity that he admired in the practice of sport in Greek antiquity was also interpretable. Forty years later, Adolf Hitler invented the great Olympic tradition of the torch relay, lit since the Games of 28 by priestesses on Mount Olympus, which would carry it across the Balkans to Berlin for the 1936 Games, and found the roots of the purity of the Aryan race in classical Greece
The fallen bust of Avery Brundage and the racist past of Olympism
Profit was the great fear, the antisport. The first concern of the first Olympic committee, two years before the first Athens Games, was precisely to close the participation only to amateur athletes, and for this they dedicated themselves at the Paris congress to seek a definition of amateurism that would please everyone, even rowing associations, the aristocratic sport par excellence in the United Kingdom, which prohibited “workers” from participating in their careers, and also aristocrats practicing pigeon shooting. “An amateur is anyone who has never participated in a competition open to anyone or attended for a prize in kind or for a sum of money and who has never, in any period of his life, been a salaried sports teacher or monitor. And anyone whose sporting successes have never brought them a financial advantage is also an amateur ”, and the congress proceedings state that this last section refers to the cyclists whom bicycle manufacturers pay for having won with their machines.
In the congress, embryo of the current International Olympic Committee (IOC), 78 delegates from 11 countries participated, including two Spaniards from the University of Oviedo, Law professors Adolfo González Posada and Aniceto Sela. Both were regenerationists, they believed in a Spain without blood or war, disciples of Giner de los Ríos, the founder of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza. They saw hope in the Olympic vision, what De Coubertin called "internationalism and democracy." They did not appear again due to the Olympic movement, whose debates in Paris also ended up specifying that the money collected from the sale of tickets to competitions should never be distributed among the athletes themselves, but that it corresponded to the societies to which the athletes belonged.
And they also set a limit on the value that the trophies donated by patrons should have to reward the champions, who in Athens 96 were a branch of a wild olive tree from Olympia, next to the temple, which is said to have been planted by Hercules in person, and a silver medal with the acropolis on one side and a Zeus on the other. Only almost a century later, with the arrival of Juan Antonio Samaranch, in 1980, to the presidency of an almost bankrupt IOC, the sacred rule of Olympic amateurism was repealed, already made a joke by the so-called brown amateurism of the countries of the This, in which athletes were state employees in a practice quickly imitated in the West.
So, 125 years ago, Olympism was not exactly the profit-generating machine it has become, capable of receiving almost 4,000 million euros. euros for the television rights of the next Tokyo Games and forcing the Japanese Government to spend more than 10 billion to organize them. In return, at least, the Games have undergone their true revolution with the conquest of their space, of only men in Athens, by sportswomen, and act as the locomotive of change
The conquest of a masculine space
Organize those of Athens 1896 cost the enthusiasts their own. The Greek Government, in debt to the eyebrows, tenaciously opposed its celebration and only at the last minute agreed to allow a philatelic issue that generated 400,000 drachmas to an organizing committee that, given the apathy of Athenian businessmen, was assumed by Crown Prince Constantine. Neither the prince nor the royal house, artificially imposed on Greece by the great powers, contributed to the financing of the Olympic adventure, but they had the power to convince George Averoff to spend a million drachmas to rebuild the Panathinaikó, a ruin in the shadow of the Acropolis, a 236-meter horseshoe track, to give it almost the same splendor that it reached in the second century, when it was rebuilt by the Roman consul Herod Atticus, a sophist and teacher. Averoff could be both, but above all, he was the great merchant of Egypt, a philanthropist who had begun to build his fortune with the slave trade. And his statue at the gates of the stadium is another reminder of all the contradictions of the Olympic movement, and of its 125 years of history. Athens again hosted the Games in 2004. The Greek state then threw in the rest. He invested 8,000 million euros, a sum that 17 years later has been turned into scrap metal, in a sports archeology park, and still weighs on the national debt.
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