Road To The Olympic Games

1906 Olympics mark 10th anniversary of the Olympic revival

Despite a scaled-back schedule of events, nearly 900 athletes from 20 countries competed in front of big, boisterous crowds.

The 1906 Olympics is a so-called "intercalated" Olympics, which means it did not receive official recognition

If the 1896 Athens Games breathed life into the modern Olympic movement, the disastrous Olympics of 1900 in Paris and 1904 in St. Louis all but smothered it through poor organization and public indifference. The modern Olympic founder, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, figured that the best medicine for the flagging Olympics would be to return them to their roots in Athens.

Rome had already been slated to host the next scheduled Olympics in 1908, but de Coubertin arranged with the Greek government and the IOC to hold an interim or so-called "intercalated" Olympics in 1906 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Olympic revival.

The International Olympic Committee was cool to the idea, but de Coubertin and the IOC reached a compromise: the 1906 Games would not be deemed an official Olympics. And de Coubertin's original scheme to stage an intercalated Games every four years was quickly scrapped.

Athens to the rescue

Despite a scaled-back schedule of events, nearly 900 athletes from 20 countries competed in front of big, boisterous crowds. The medals handed out may not have counted in the eyes of the IOC, but it's safe to say the 1906 Athens one-off probably saved the entire Olympic movement from folding.

Canada's 4-man team

Canada only sent four athletes to Athens, but they were pretty successful on a per capita basis, coming home with a gold and silver medal. Hamilton’s William Sherring, a brakeman for the Grand Trunk Railway, surprised a field of 52 runners by breezing to victory in the marathon with a winning margin of more than seven minutes. Race walker Donald Linden won Canada's silver.

For the first time, the United States sent an official team, sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee, rather than field individual entries or college athletic teams. It made little difference to the athletics competition – the U.S. dominated as usual, winning 11 of the 21 track and field gold medals.

This time around, the big track star was Paul Pilgrim, a last-minute addition to the American team who had to pay his own way to Athens. It was worth the expense, though, as he won the 400-metre and 800m events, a feat, which was not repeated until the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Other American track and field standouts were Martin Sheridan with shot put and standard discus golds, Ray Ewry who continued his incredible string of Olympic victories with gold medals in the standing long and high jumps, and Archie Hahn, the triple-gold sprinter from 1904 who won again in the 100m.

The 1906 Games saw the javelin and pentathlon added to the schedule. The latter event harkened back to the ancient Greek Olympics and featured a 192m-run, standing long jump, discus and javelin throws and Greco-Roman wrestling. It was won by Sweden’s Hjalmar Mellander.

The Finns also made their Olympic debut and had their first champion in Virner Jarvinen, who won the Greek-style discus competition. He became a national hero and set the early standard for a long-standing tradition of Finnish excellence in athletics.

There were complaints – notably about a deteriorating stadium and soft cinder track – and the "intercalated" Olympic experiment would never be repeated. But these interim Games proved that the Olympics could be run well and please the fans. Their legacy is that the Olympic movement regained its footing and sense of purpose, and the world actually looked forward to the next official Olympics of 1908

Back to top