Light the Torch: The First Modern Olympic Games

Explore many aspects of the first modern Olympic Games in your classroom.

By Bethany Stagliano

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Country flags

The Olympics began in Greece way back in 776 BC, according to historical records. They consisted of only one sport: a sprint. They were eventually banned by the Roman emperor as being too pagan. Those Games are now referred to as the ancient Olympics. Fast forward 1,500 years after the Games were banned, to a Frenchman who wanted to revive and strengthen the Olympic Games.

Who was Pierre Fredy, Baron de Coubertin?

This French sportsman had a vast interest in the ancient Olympics. He traveled the world in an attempt to convince people of all nationalities to restore and rejuvenate the Olympic Games. He felt that people needed a balance of mind and body. Fredy also believed that the Olympics would bring peace to people from all over the world, as they gather together for a common goal. The design of the Olympic flag was made by Fredy in 1913. It is what we know today as the five rings (blue, yellow, green, black, and red). Each color represented a part of the world that participated: Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

Here are some ways to incorporate this information into your classroom:

  • Write a research report on the man who was responsible for the first modern Olympics.
  • Pierre Fredy fought hard to convince people that the Olympic Games were worth playing. Is there a cause or event that you are passionate about? How would you go about showing others that it is a worthy cause?
  • Make your own Olympic flag. You will need paper plates, scissors, glue, and crayons or markers!

Athens, Greece, 1896

Athens, Greece is the birthplace of the modern Olympics. Only men competed in these Games. Women were not allowed to compete until 1900. Even then, they were limited in both sports and outfits. This is because women were required to cover their bodies, often head to toe!

Ask your pupils to consider and discuss the following questions:

  • What was life like in 1896?
  • Only men were allowed to participate in the Games. How do you feel about this?
  • How would the clothing restrictions affect a female competitor's performance?
  • Where is Greece on a map? Using a map of the world, plot out all locations that have held the Olympic Games.

Let the Games Begin

On the first day of the first modern Olympic Games (Athens 1896), 13 countries with a total of 280 participants gathered together to compete. The events included track and field, marathons, gymnastics, wrestling, fencing, tennis, cycling, and swimming. As already noted, all of the competitors were men. However, it is also believed that some of the competitors were tourists who stumbled upon the Games and decided to participate.

Try these activities:

  • Research the Olympic sports then and now. What is the same and what has changed? How have the sports uniforms and equipment evolved?
  • Compare and contrast the rules of the past Olympic Games to the current rules.
  • Hold a class Olympics! Like Pierre Fredy, create a balance between body and mind. Be sure to include both physical and mental challenges.

Greek Mythology

Historians state that both the ancient and early modern Olympics were related to the gods and goddesses in Greek mythology, in particular, Zeus. The traditional flame, which is lit every four years, symbolizes the death and rebirth of the heroes from Greek mythology.

Ask the following questions:

  • Who are some of the gods and goddesses from Greek mythology?
  • If you could assign each god or goddess an Olympic sport based on their personalities and traits, which sport would you assign, and why?
  • Make your own Olympic torch. Cut out the bottom of an empty water bottle and tape orange, yellow, and red construction paper to look like flames sticking out. Cover the rest of the bottle in aluminum foil, and there's your Olympic torch!

Related Lessons:

All About Sports 

Connect academics with physical activity. Discover a wide variety of activities that create a balance between mind and body.

Greek Mythology 

Learn about the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. Read Greek myths to enhance the learning experience.

Olympic Report Planner 

Research an Olympian with the help of this graphic organizer. Use the gathered information to assist in report writing.