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The modern Olympic games started in 1896 in Greece. That’s where the Olympics originates from. Now, it’s become a country that organized the First Modern Olympics. The first winner was awarded a silver medal at that time. Today, the line-up is gold for the first winner, silver for the runner-up, and bronze for the third. Athletes from 14 nations participated in the first modern Olympics, with a vast majority of them coming from Greece, France, Great Britain, and Germany.

The championship was in the Panathenaic stadium, the construction of which dates back to 330 BC. It was reconstructed for the Olympics championship in 1896.

The first person to win the silver medal in the Olympics was James Connolly. He won the triple jump, which was then known as the “hop, skip, jump”, and secured a second position in the high jump. Connolly was the second runner-up in the long jump. Keep reading to discover more about the first American to win the silver medal in the modern Olympics and his history.

Transition from the ancient Olympics to modern Olympics

On 6th April 1896, the Olympics was reborn after 1500 years. The international competition welcomed 241 athletes with a massive crowd of 60,000 people.

The Olympics championship is not new. It dates back to 776 BC when the first Olympics were held in Greece and was conducted every four years in honor of the Greek God Zeus. Citizens of Greece from 100+ cities used to participate in sports. The ancient Olympics started with foot races, but more games were added later. Some of them include wrestling, chariot racing, boxing, and more.

However, the Olympics didn’t last. Theodosius, the Roman Emperor, banned the Greek event. Then, 1500 years later, Pierre de Coubertin suggested the revival of the Olympics, which led to the Modern Olympics. People liked his proposal.

A lot has changed in the championship since it started, but a few things are constant. For example, the games are organized every four years.

That’s how the first Olympics was conducted in the capital city of Greece “Athens” in 1896. There were 43 events, including swimming, gymnastics, shooting, weightlifting, etc. Sadly, there was no female participant in the first Olympics, as female participation in the games was considered unethical and incorrect during the Ancient Olympics championship.

Today, the Olympics champions take the gold, silver, and bronze medals with trophies back home. If they are lucky, they may get sponsorship deals. But the Ancient Greek Olympics would award the winning athletes an olive tree wreath. The Olympics in ancient times were all about winning and losing, as there was no prize or anything precious for the winner.

When the Olympics were banned, some European nations conducted their own informal sports events, called “Olympics”. The international Olympics, however, started in 1896 when the Frenchman’s idea was approved by 79 delegates from different nations.

About James Connolly: The journey to winning the first silver medal in the Olympics

Connolly was born to an Irish immigrant and brought up in Boston. He left school at 11 and got admission to the Harvard Institute later.

He was 27 years old when the modern Olympics started. Connolly studied at Harvard University and applied for leave to participate in these Greek games events. Sadly, his application was denied, so he requested a withdrawal instead. James Wrote his autobiography where he mentioned all the struggles he faced during his journey to Europe, in his early life, and later.

In that, he mentioned, he went to Europe with nine Americans. It was around the two-week journey to Italy, which started with a train ride to Italy, followed by a boat ride, and then another train ride, 10 hours to the capital city. They travelled for 16 days straight, leaving the teammates exhausted by the time they reached Athens.

The worst part was that nobody knew the games were starting the very same day they had arrived in Athens. In the autobiography, James mentioned that they had organized the event following the Greek calendar. James thought they would get a week or two for the training. Besides, they wanted to take some rest before appearing for the championship.

First champion in the Olympics

Within a few hours, James Connolly had to go for the triple jump, formerly known as hop, skip, and jump. He watched other athletes before him. They followed the original triple jump pattern, while some athletes hopped twice and jumped. Connolly described how he changed his decision from hopping, skipping, and jumping, to hopping twice and jumping—something he had not practiced since he used to play with peers in his childhood. He did pretty well, though.

James’s jump was 44 feet and 11 ¾ inches high, earning him the first winning spot in the championship and a silver medal. At the beginning of the first modern Olympics, the silver medal was awarded to the first winner, and the pattern continued until it changed during the St. Louis Olympics games held in 1904. His dedication and skills made him the first to win the Olympics championship in 1500 years.

The first Olympics championship also featured a marathon. In the early years of the Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin organized everything, as the Olympics didn’t get much attention in its initial stage. The Olympics held in 1924 was the one that garnered attention from all over the world, bringing 3,000 athletes, including 100 women, from 44 countries to the stadium. The number of athletes participating, the games, and awards kept increasing since then.

Subsequent championships

Connolly participated again at the 1900 Paris Olympics and lost his championship title to Meyer Prienstein. In the 1904 Olympics Game when the gold, silver, and bronze pattern was introduced, James Connolly attended the event as a journalist. Since then he set up a career in writing and became a novelist. He was even offered a doctorate by Harvard, which he refused. Connolly was 47 years old when he died in Dublin Ireland.


James Connolly’s passion for the Olympics drove him to Europe where he, among his nine teammates, gave wonderful performances. Not only did he win the silver medal for the triple jumps, but he represented his hometown and went on to attend other Olympics as a journalist.


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