The International Olympic Committee recognises two modern games held in Athens – 1896 and 2004 – but somewhere between Paris and St Louis lies a third.
The 1906 Athens Olympics may not be officially recognised but is so for its contribution in reviving the modern games after its two predecessors – Paris 1900 and St Louis 1904 – failed to recapture the success of 1896.
The disappointment of the Paris Olympics saw the IOC reassess its decision to rotate the Olympics, with Greece receiving strong support to be the perpetual host of the games.
Greece’s King Georgios was the strongest advocate, while several US Olympians who wrote to the New York Times in favour of this motion, based on the facilities available to them in Athens and success of the 1896 Olympics.
Despite opposition from IOC president Pierre de Coubertin – who protested Greece would seek to monopolise the games for its own gain – a compromise was made in 1901 at an IOC Congress in Paris to make the games biennial. The Olympics would be rotated between Athens and other cities, in addition to paying homage to the ancient games and the four ‘Olympia Games’ held in Greece between 1859 and 1875.
The first Olympics in this new cycle was held in Athens in 1906 and its impact was profound.
It was the first Olympics to feature a ‘Parade of Nations’ in its opening ceremony, where all athletes marched together led by a flag bearer of their respective country in front of 60,000 people at the Panathenaic Stadium on April 22.
These Olympics featured 847 athletes from 20 countries – making it the most internationally representative games at the time – competing in 74 events across 13 sports with rowing, soccer and women’s lawn tennis introduced.
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Among the medal winners was US legend Martin Sheridan, who won Gold in Men’s Shot-put and Discus and Silver in Standing High Jump, Long Jump and Stone Throw.
Of the 20 competing nations France acquired the most medals with 40, Greece came in second with 34 while Australia’s four athletes combined for three bronze medals.
Greece won eight gold medals – exceeding in rowing, athletics, weightlifting and shooting.
In addition to medals, athletes were awarded olive wreathes from the Altis in Olympia at the closing ceremony on May 2, with all athletes also given a participation medal.
The Panathenaic stadium was the central base with other venues like the Zappeion, Neo Phaliron velodrome, Athens Lawn and Tennis club and the Kallithea Shooting Stand all utilised.
Moreover, the increase in publicity and international media these games received due to its success and presence of foreign dignitaries such as King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of England helped ‘’resurrect the Olympic movement’’ according to historian Bill Mallon.
Given its impact, the question looms as to why these Olympics are not officially recognised.
The IOC accepted it as such in 1901 and an Olympic committee was established by Greek IOC member Alexandros Merkati prior to the games, but issues in Balkans and the outbreak of the First World War prohibited Athens from hosting the Games in 1910, 1914 and 1918.
Following this there was no mention of continuing this format, with the Olympics returning to its original four-year cycle and Coubertin not recognising the Athens Games as official in his documentation post 1906.
These writings were significant in influencing IOC President Avery Brundage in January 1949 to reject the 1906 games – as part of the Brundage Commission – as an official Olympics and instead recognise them as the Intermediate Games or the ten-year anniversary of the Modern Olympics.
Historians debate this ruling, pointing to major international newspapers such as the New York Times who referred to the event as the Olympic Games in April 23, 1906 issue – in addition to the IOC recognising it as such with Coubertin’s approval in 1901.
All medals won during these games were also scrapped from Olympics history, instead recognised as prizes won in the 1906 Intermediate Games.
The 1906 Olympic Games may not be recorded by the IOC but history remembers them as pivotal in reviving and pioneering the Modern Games.