ANCIENT OLYMPICS THE 19TH CENTURY OLYMPIC MOVEMENT
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman, is justly given credit for establishing the modern Olympics, but it was England that revived the idea, and it was in England that Coubertin was introduced to it.
As early as 1612, Robert Dover established an English version of the Olympic Games in the Cotswold Hills in Gloucestershire. Events included card games, chess, and dancing, as well as running, jumping, the hammer throw, pitching the bar, wrestling, and horse racing.
During the 18th century, students at Cambridge University staged some kind of Olympic Games, but it's not known exactly when they were held or what sports were involved, if any.
The Olympic idea was definitely in the air in 19th-century England. The Baron de Berenger held an Olympic Festival at Chelsea Stadium in London in 1832. To commemorate Queen Victoria's coronation, he staged another festival in 1838, which included archery, gymnastics, cricket, fencing, rowing, sailing, and target shooting with both rifle and pistol.
By far the most important of such events was the annual Olympic festival at Much Wenlock, Shropshire, which began in 1850. William "Penny" Brooke, a life-long campaigner for physical education, organized the games, which included cricket, hurdling, jumping, quoits, running, and soccer.
The Much Wenlock Games were originally designed for youngsters--there was an even a race for children under seven--but they eventually grew to include older athletes. They also drew some attention from Europe and the German Gymnastics Society began sending a team to England to compete in various events.
In 1861, Brooke organized the Shropshire Olympian Association, which led to the founding of the National Olympian Association four years later. Brooke's goal was to create an international Olympics, primarily to promote physical education in participating countries.
Brooke never achieved that goal. But, in 1890, he was visited by Coubertin, who was eager to learn about the Much Wenlock games and the Olympian Society, and Brooke was very helpful to the young Frenchman who shared his interest in physical education and his dream of an international Olympic festival.
Born in 1863, Coubertin had grown up in the shadow of his country's devastating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. He decided that France had lost the war due to physical and spiritual flabbiness caused primarily by poor educational methods.
A boxer, fencer, and rower as a young man, Coubertin determined to devote his life to education and, especially, to physical education. His ideas fit in exactly with England's "muscular Christianity" movement, which espoused moral and intellectual development based on physical fitness.
Coubertin visited England several times to see first-hand how sport was used in public schools, and he also traveled to the United States with the same goal. In 1889, he organized the Congress of Physical Education in Paris and the following year he made his visit to Much Wenlock to talk to "Penny" Brooke about the Olympian Society.
The idea of reviving the Olympics as a true international festival grew out of that meeting. Coubertin began openly espousing the idea in 1892, but attracted little notice. Despite repeated rebuffs, not only from his own countrymen but from the English and the Americans as well, Coubertin persisted. On June 23, 1894, he presided over a meeting of 79 delegates, representing 12 countries, who unanimously voted for the restoration of the Olympic games.
As a result, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was organized, with the goal of staging the first modern Olympics in Paris in 1900. Pressed by Coubertin, the IOC soon decided to aim for 1896, with Athens as the site.
That idea, too, met with resistance, especially from the government of Greece. But when Georgios Averoff of Alexandria donated 920,000 gold drachmas to build an Olympic stadium in Athens, the resistance folded, and the King of Greece himself opened the first modern Olympic Games on April 5, 1896 (March 24 on the Greek calendar).