125 years ago, on April 5, 1896, it was raining heavily in Athens, but the next day the sun was shining at three o’clock in the afternoon, when the kings of Greece, George (Danish) and Olga (Russian), entered the Panathenaic Stadium, all white marble covered the first row of seats, and their thrones, covered with red velvet fabrics, under the cheers of 50,000 spectators to open the first Olympic Games of the modern era, the first to stand for over 1,500 years. A few minutes later, without an opening parade or more ceremony than the real “I declare the first Games open”, the athletics competition begins with the 100 meters series and the first final, the long jump (in fact a kind of jump). triple, jump, jump and jump), which consecrated as the first Olympic champion the North American James Connolly, 27, son of Irish immigrants in Boston and student at Harvard, who jumped 12.70 meters.
For 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 his country’s first great sporting hero after winning the first marathon in history.
Nada más lejos de los Juegos actuales, su gigantismo, su comercialización, su gran economic y cultural impact, el único gran evento regularly scheduled, junto al Mundial de fútbol, capaz de pegar a la pantalla de un televisor a miles de millions de personas simultáneamente In the whole world. “Athletics entered the world stage in the Sparta of Lycurgus \[año 800 antes de Cristo\] and he was guided by pedagogy, by the search for the harmony of the human machine, the balance between body and mind, the joy of feeling alive”, boasted in 1894 Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the inventor of present-day Olympism, a lover of “internationalism and democracy” that the Olympic competitions would spread throughout the world, when the first Games were still only a utopia. “Then profit slipped and the philosophy of the sport grew darker year after year; sport descended into the degrading arena of the Roman circus, and Christianity dealt its last blows. It took until this century [finales del XIX] to see it reborn.”
His accelerated account of the history of athletic competition can be interpreted a century and a quarter later as a prophecy of what will eventually be, its inevitable transformation into a mass spectacle. And the purity 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 from the 1928 Games by priestesses from Mount Olympus, who transported it across the Balkans to Berlin for the 1936 Games, and found the roots of the purity of the Aryan Race in classical Greece.
Profit was the great fear, the anti-sport. The first concern of the first Olympic Committee, two years before the first Athens Games, was precisely to prohibit participation only to amateur athletes, and for this they devoted themselves at the Paris Congress to seeking a definition of amateurism this would appeal to everyone, including rowing associations, the aristocratic sport par excellence in the UK, which banned ‘workers’ from their races, and also aristocratic pigeon shooters. “He is amateur Any person who has never participated in a competition open to anyone or competed for a prize in kind or for a sum of money and who has never, at any time in his life, been a paid teacher or sports instructor. And it’s also amateur any person whose sporting successes have never brought him a pecuniary advantage”, and in the proceedings of the congress it is specified that this last paragraph refers to cyclists who are paid by the bicycle manufacturers for having won with their machines.
The congress, embryo of the current International Olympic Committee (IOC), brought together 78 delegates from 11 countries, including two Spaniards from the University of Oviedo, law professors Adolfo González Posada and Aniceto Sela. Both were regenerators, 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 have not reappeared because of the Olympic movement, whose debates in Paris also ended up specifying that the money collected from the sale of tickets for competitions should never be distributed among the athletes themselves, but should correspond to the societies to which the athletes belonged.
And they also set a limit on the value of the trophies donated by patrons to reward the champions, which in Athens 96 was a branch of a wild olive tree from Olympia, next to the temple, which would have been planted by Hercules himself , and a silver medal with the acropolis on one side and a Zeus on the other. It was not until almost a century later, with the arrival of Juan Antonio Samaranch in 1980 as president of an almost bankrupt CIO, that the sacred rule of amateurism Olympic, already turned into a joke by the so-called amateurism Brown Eastern countries, in which the athletes were state employees in a practice quickly imitated in the West.
Thus, 125 years ago, Olympism was not exactly the profit machine that it has become, capable of receiving nearly 4,000 million euros for the television rights of the next Games in Tokyo and of obliging the Japanese government to spend more than 10,000 million to organize them. In return, at least, the Games experienced their real revolution with the conquest of their space, of the only men in Athens, by female athletes, and act as a locomotive of change.
The organization of Athens 1896 cost the enthusiasts dearly. The eyeball-beholden Greek government stubbornly opposed its celebration and only agreed at the last minute to allow a philatelic issue that generated 400,000 drachmas to an organizing committee which, given from the apathy of Athenian businessmen, Crown Prince Constantine took over. 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 Panathinaiko , a ruin in the shadows. from the Acropolis, a horseshoe track of 236 meters, to give it almost the same splendor that it reached in the 2nd century, when it was rebuilt by the Roman consul Herod Atticus, sophist and teacher. Averoff could be both, but he was above all the great merchant of Egypt, a philanthropist who had begun to build his fortune through the slave trade. And his statue at the gates of the stadium is another reminder of all the contradictions of the Olympic movement and its 125 years of history. Athens returned to host the Games in 2004. The Greek state then threw out the rest. He invested 8 billion euros, a sum that 17 years later has become scrap metal, in a sports archeology park, and still weighs on the national debt.
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