Athens 1896 postscript

All of the medals were presented at a prize-giving ceremony at the end of the Games. Initially scheduled to take place on 14 April, it was postponed until the next day due to bad weather.

According to the correspondent of The Times who was present in Athens to witness proceedings, “The weather was magnificent, the recent rain having cleared the air, and when the King accompanied by the crown prince, the royal family and the grand duke George entered the stadium at half past 10 the immense assemblage afforded a brilliant and impressive scene.”

Each of the winners was awarded an olive branch from Olympia, a silver medal chiselled by the celebrated French engraver Chaplain, depicting the Acropolis on one side and the head of Zeus on the other, and a “handsomely illuminated diploma” prepared by a Greek artist.

After the distribution of the prizes, the athletes formed for the traditional procession around the stadium. Spyridon Louis, the victor of the marathon, led the way, bearing the Greek flag; followed by the various national delegations. One of the contestants, George Robertson, an Oxford University student, recited an ode which he had composed, in ancient Greek in honour of the Games.

As well as local hero Louis, who received a special trophy from the French academician, Michel Breal, there was particularly enthusiastic applause for Germany’s athlete Carl Schuhmann, winner of four titles in Athens and who according to The Times’ correspondent was “a favourite with the crowd”.

Once the winners had all been honoured, the second-placed athletes from each event stepped forward to receive a laurel branch, along with George Robertson who was presented with one in recognition of his ode.

The Greek crown prince was then presented with a laurel wreath on behalf of the German delegation. Samaras’ hymn, which would later be adopted as the official anthem of the Olympic Movement, was given another airing, before the King of Greece declared the first Olympic Games of the modern era officially closed.

“A few days later Athens was emptied of its guests,” mused The Times correspondent. “Torn wreaths littered the public squares; the banners which had floated merrily in the streets disappeared; the sun and the wind held sole possession of the marble sidewalks of Stadion Street.”


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