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What Were the First Modern Olympic Sports?

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The first international Olympic games held in modern history was the 1896 Summer Olympics which was officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad. It was organized by the International Olympic Committee that was founded by Pierre de Coubertin. This Olympic games was held from April 6 to 15, 1896 in Athens, Greece.

The inaugural modern Games was unanimously chosen to be held in Athens during a congress organized by Coubertin in Paris on June 23, 1894. It was also during that time when the Olympic Committee was created, because Greece was the birthplace of the Ancient Olympic Games.

The opening of the first modern Olympics was held on April 6 in the Panathenaic Stadium where competing athletes, grouped by nation, lined up on the field. The father of Crown Prince Constantine was the one who officially opened the Games, and it was regarded as a great success. But have you ever wondered what were the first sports involved in the first modern Olympics?

The 1896 Summer Olympics featured nine sports that encompassed 10 disciplines and 43 events. Here are the first modern Olympic sports.


Athletics is a group of sporting events that includes running, throwing, jumping, and walking. This event had the most international field of any of the sports and one of its major highlights was the marathon which was held for the first time in international competitions. Spyridon Louis was the one who won the event. He was a former unrecognized water carrier. Because of his victory, he became the only Greek athletics champion and as well as a national hero.

Aside from the marathon, other sports included in the Athletics event were 100 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, 1,500 meters, 110 meters’ hurdles, high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump, shot put, and discus throw. There were a total of 64 athletes from 10 nations who competed this the Athens Games which made athletics the most international of the nine sports at the 1896 Games.


Cycling is also known as bicycling or biking. There were six cycling events held at the Neo Phaliron Velodrome during the 1896 Summer Olympics, and the rules of the International Cycling Association were used. There was only one road event held which was a race from Athens to Marathon and back with a total of 87 kilometers.

The cycling events included were road race, sprint, time trial, 10 kilometers, 100 kilometers, and 12-hour race. There was a total of 19 cyclists from 5 nations, namely Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Greece, who competed in this sport.

The best cyclist in the track events was Paul Masson. He won the one lap time trial, sprint event, and 10 kilometers. Adolf Schmal, an Austrian fencer, won the 12-hour race, and Aristidis Konstantinidis won the road race event.


Fencing is a sport which consists of three disciplines which are foil, the epee, and the sabre. The three fencing events held at the 1896 Summer Olympics were contested at the Zappeion. Unlike in other sports where amateurs can join, in fencing, only professionals were allowed. There were 15 athletes from 4 nations, Austria, Denmark, France, and Greece, who competed in this event, and 8 fencers from 3 nations won one medal each.


Gymnastics is a sport that requires flexibility, strength, coordination, and balance. In the first modern Olympics, the gymnastics competition was held in the infield of Panathinaiko Stadium. There were eleven participants sent by Germany who won five of the eight events. The events they’ve competed were the horizontal bar event, parallel bars, vault, rings, rope, pommel horse, and climbing.

There were 71 competitors in the gymnastic event and they came from 9 nations namely Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Sweden, and Switzerland.


There were five sport shooting events held in the 1896 Summer Olympics. They were contested at the Kallithea shooting range. The events included were 200-meter military rifle, 300-meter free rifle, 25-meter military pistol, 25-meter rapid fire pistol, and 30-meter free pistol. There was a total of 61 shooters who participated in the sport shooting events. They were from Denmark, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, and United States.


There wasn’t any specially constructed stadium for swimming during that time that’s why the sport event was held in the open sea. There were more than twenty thousand audiences lined at the Bay of Zea off the Piraeus coats to watch the swimming events.

Three open events were held which are men’s 100-meter freestyle, men’s 500-meter freestyle, and men’s 1,200-meter freestyle. The first Olympic champion in swimming was Alfred Hajos. He was also one of the only two Olympians to have won medals in both sport and art competitions.


Weightlifting or Olympic-style weightlifting in 1896 was different from the rules we follow in the present time. It’s because weightlifting competitions were held outdoors in the infield of the main stadium, and there were no weight limits being followed during those times. There were seven men from five nations who competed in this event.

The winner of the one-armed weightlifting event in the first modern Olympics was Launceston Elliot. He was popular with the Greek audience because they found him very handsome. The bronze medals on the other hand, were split by two Greek weightlifters.


There were also no weight classes that existed in the wrestling competitions during the first modern Olympics, meaning, there was only one winner among the competitors of all sizes. The wrestling events were held in the Panathenaic Stadium. The rules they followed were similar to the modern Greco-Roman wrestling, however, there was no time limit and there were leg holds that were not forbidden.

There were five competitors from four nations who competed in this event. It was Carl Schuhmann who won the wrestling competition against Launceston Elliot and Georgios Tsitas.


There were two tennis events held in the 1896 Summer Olympics which were men’s singles and men’s doubles. Though tennis was already a major sport in the 19th century, there were no top players who joined in the tournament in Athens.

The tennis games were held in the infield of the velodrome used for cycling events at the courts of the Athens Lawn Tennis Club. There were 15 tennis players from 6 nations who participated in the tennis games. John Pius Boland was the one who won the event defeating Friedrich Traun. But for the doubles, they teamed up and they reached the final and were able to defeat their Greek and Egyptian opponents.

These were the first modern Olympic sports before many other sports were added in the following years. In the present time there are more than twenty sports included in the Summer Olympic Games.


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