First Modern Olympics Medals

by Sandra Merville Hart

The first modern Olympic games were held in Athens, Greece, on April 6 – April 15, 1896. The Games of the I Olympiad, as they were called, had an Opening Ceremony and a Closing Ceremony.

The competition began on April 6th. American James Connolly competed in the first event only hours after arriving in Athens. What is now known as the triple jump was then called “the hop, step, and jump,” and it was the first event. His jump was 44 feet 11 ¾ inches—he won first place.

Even more important, James Connolly became the first Olympic champion in the 1896 games—and the first in 1,527 years.

We have grown accustomed to watching our Olympic winners receive medals for their achievement. A gold medal is awarded to the first-place winner, a silver medal goes to second place, and a bronze medal goes to third place.

These weren’t the awards in 1896.

Firstly, only the top two winners received an award. Those coming in third received nothing.

Secondly, first and second place both received three items. Gold medals weren’t awarded in 1896. A silver medal was awarded to first place winners along with an olive branch and a diploma. A bronze/copper medal was given to second place winners. They also received a diploma but instead of an olive branch they were given a laurel branch.

These early medals are rare. A first-place medal from the Games of the I Olympiad held in Athens in 1896 was up for auction in July of 2021. It sold for over $180,000!


“1896 Summer Olympics,” Wikipedia, 2021/07/23

“About the Games,” Olympic Channel Services, 2021/07/25 Editors. “10 Things You May not Know about the First Modern Olympics,” A&E Television Networks, 2021/07/23

“Rare Medal from First Modern Olympics Fetches over $180,000,” AP News, 2021/07/23