Back to the future in Athens

These Games took place over a six-month period between April and October, and were already well underway by the time of their official opening.

The first event had been a rackets tournament at the nearby Queen’s Club, which was poorly-attended with only 58 seats reserved and won by the Briton Evan Noel before a ball in the final had been hit after opponent Henry Leaf injured his hand. But the opening ceremony, which marked the beginning of the 11 days of athletics events, took place on Monday, 13 July, two months after the Prince and Princess of Wales had stepped into the newly-built royal box at a rainswept, hastily-arranged local athletics meeting and formally dedicated the arena to international sport.

A “large and brilliant company” was present for the ceremony, according to the Official Report. King Edward VII and Princess Alexandra were at the head of it, while other royals and dignitaries from around the world had also travelled to London. A total of 1,001 athletes – 2008 would eventually compete – joined the opening procession before the King declared the Games open in front of 40,000 spectators. The weather was characteristically damp, but the most eagerly-anticipated part of the Games got underway promptly with the first heat of the 1,500m, and London could breathe a sigh of relief that an impossible-looking task had gone off more or less according to plan.