1st Olympics, Athens, 1896: Panathinaiko Stadium, George M. Averoff (00:00:08)
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1st Olympics, Athens, 1896: Panathinaiko Stadium, George M. Averoff

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Location and time:

Greece, 1896


George M. Averoff (1815-1899), alternately Georgios Averof (In Greek: Γεώργιος Αβέρωφ), was a Greek businessman and philanthropist.

Born in the town of Metsovo (Epirus, Greece, then Ottoman Empire) Averoff moved to Alexandria while still young. He was known through most of his life for founding numerous schools in both Egypt and Greece.

As a benefactor, he contributed funds for the restoration of the Panathenian Stadium in readiness for the 1896 Summer Olympics. This he did at the request of Crown Prince Constantine. The stadium was refurbished in 1895, its second refurbishment in the 19th century, using white marble from Mount Penteli pursuant to Averoff's request. The cost was initially estimated at 585,000 drachmas but eventually reached 920,000.[1]

He also served as a member of the reception committee for the foreign competitors at the Games.

In gratitude for his contributions, a statue of Averoff was commissioned and placed in front of the stadium. It remains there today[1]. In addition, a Greek cruiser, the flagship of the Hellenic Navy, which was constructed largely with funds (2,500,000 Gold francs) provided for under his will, was named after him.

The 1896 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, was a multi-sport event celebrated in Athens, Greece, from April 6 to April 15, 1896. It was the first international Olympic Games held in the Modern era. Ancient Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, consequently Athens was perceived to be an appropriate choice to stage the inaugural modern Games. It was unanimously chosen as the host city during a congress organized by Pierre de Coubertin, a French pedagogue and historian, in Paris, on June 23, 1894. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was also established during this congress.

Despite many obstacles and setbacks, the 1896 Olympics were regarded as a great success. The Games had the largest international participation of any sporting event to that date. The Panathinaiko Stadium, the only Olympic stadium used in the 19th Century, overflowed with the largest crowd ever to watch a sporting event.[3] The highlight for the Greeks was the marathon victory by their compatriot Spiridon Louis. The most successful competitor was German wrestler and gymnast Carl Schuhmann, who won four events.

After the Games, Coubertin and the IOC were petitioned by several prominent figures including Greece's King George and some of the American competitors in Athens, to hold all the following Games in Athens. However, the 1900 Summer Olympics were already planned for Paris and, except for the Intercalated Games of 1906, the Olympics did not return to Greece until the 2004 Summer Olympics, some 108 years later.

The stories surrounding the events and personalities of these Games were chronicled in the 1984 NBC miniseries, The First Olympics: Athens, 1896 - starring David Ogden Stiers as William Milligan Sloane and Louis Jourdan as Pierre de Coubertin

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