The first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece. Beyond the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, there are very few things that the Games 120 years ago have in common with the Olympics that will have us glued to the TV for another week.
Back in 1896, 241 athletes from only 14 nations competed at the events. 43 events were held in 9 broader categories, which included athletics (i.e. track and field), cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling.
More than half the participants came from Greece, the host country, and many others came from Germany, Great Britain, and France. No women were allowed to compete until the 1900 Olympics in Paris.
Compare to Rio, where 11,178 athletes from 207 countries are competing in 306 events in 28 sports.
With so few participants, draws were tiny. There were, for example, 13 total tennis players in the Games. Some of these participants were not even amateur tennis players, but athletes from other events put in to strengthen the field.
This practice was not uncommon, as witnessed by the top medalist of the Games, Carl Schuhmann from Germany. He competed in multiple athletics, gymnastics, weightlifting, and wrestling events and ended the tournament with four first place medals – which were silver at the time, rather than gold.
Not only were the Games themselves so different, so were the results:
1896: 12.0 sec (Thomas Burke, USA)
2016: 9.81 sec (Usain Bolt, Jamaica), 10.71 sec (Elaine Thompson, Jamaica)
1896: 54.2 sec (Thomas Burke, USA)
2016: 43.03 sec (Wayde van Niekerk, South Africa), 49.44 sec (Shaunae Miller, Bahamas)
400m freestyle swim
1896: 8:12.6 min (Paul Neumann, Austria)
2016: 3:41.55 min (Mack Horton, Australia), 3:56.46 min (Katie Ledecky, USA)