THE OFFICIAL INAUGURATION OF THE GAMES
The crowds, however, were most excited in the expectation of the inauguration of the International Olympic Games in the Stadium. All hasten from early morning to procure tickets. The office of the Council in the large house of Melas family is literally blockaded. The sellers of tickets in the roads are surrounded by thick and noisy throngs. All hustle and vie to obtain the best possible seats, while the organs of the police supervise them to see that black market prices are not asked.
Immediately after noon the endless trek to the stadium starts. From all sides of the city dense crowds of citizens set out, of all classes, all ages and both sexes. The carriages traverse the streets in haste. The rail coaches ceaselessly bring people from the Piraeus and the surrounding neighbourhoods. The density of the crowd around the neighbourhood of the Zappeion is indescribable. A cohesive mass, which is continuously increasing and getting thicker blackens the bridge to the stadium and outwards in all directions, while the shrill cries of the vendors of refreshments can only just been heard amidst the crowds. Order, however, is maintained excellently. City police and mounted gendarmes guard the entrance to Herodes Atticus Avenue, behind the Royal Gardens, and Olgas Avenue. Beside the Grotto of the Nymphs, carriages are prohibited. The through passage is only allowed to the carriages of the officials and to the invited. Also halting in front of the bridge is prohibited. The waves of the public press towards the entrances. In order to avoid a great crush it has been arranged that those who have tickets for the tiers of the upper diazoma should pass in through the temporary wooden bridges on each side of the main stone one. In the middle of the bridge is a barrier, while a belt of soldiers permits entrance to those who present the correct tickets. At the entrances themselves on either side tickets are again shown to the gate-keepers and the special guards of the stadium, after which the spectators enter and each takes his seat on the tier marked on his ticket. Those who have tickets for the upper tiers enter by the front of the two extremities of the facade. The supreme supervision of the stadium has been entrusted to the colonel of engineers Mr. Nicholas Metaxas, having beneath him various officers of lower rank who act as curators for each tier. Order is kept by armed soldiers placed at distances in front of the stairs leading to the tiers.
The crowds enter in plenty and long before the hour fixed for the start at 3.30. p.m., the major part of the stadium had been filled by the spectators. One tier close to the sphendone has been kept for the Members of Parliament. Another has been kept for the officers, while another for the officially invited guests. No. 10 tier on the right side has been reserved for the press representatives. The sight is magnificent; the variegated dresses of the ladies, their millinery and the movement of the fans in the midst of the black masses of tens of thousands of spectators, the resplendant uniforms and the plumes of the officers, the waving flags, the thick belt of spectators without tickets, who are perched on the summit of the surrounding hillocks over the stone wall, all compose a peculiar and imposing sight. An especially graphic sight is the hillock over the right side which is covered to the last inch by innumerable people, who appear from the stadium as a complexity of heads. The decoration of the stadium is exceptional.
At the entrance very tall masts have been erected and on them are hung standards and escutcheons, and on each side a replica of ancient tripods. All around close to the marble parapet are poles with escutcheons, while close to the sphendone the two ancient Hermes which were found during the excavations of the ancient track have been set up. The seats of the tiers have small cushions on which the spectators can sit. The members of the various committees are gathered on the track of the arena, as also the curators and other officials. After that the various bands make their entrance, playing, and taking their places.
After great expectation the Royal Family arrives at 3.15 p.m. Immediately the Crown Prince, President of the Committee of the Games, Prince George, and the Cabinet which has already arrived, make their way to the entrance. In a litlle while the Royal retinue appears walking in the middle of the arena. In front is H.M. The King, wearing the uniform of an infantry general, and H. M. The Queen wearing a white dress. Following them comes Princess Mary with Her fianc´ee the Grand Duke George Mihailovich, Princess Sophia, and the other members of the Royal Family, their retinues, the Ministers and at the end the Committees. The bands play the Royal Anthem while the spectators arise and greet Their Majesties whith cheers. The moment is moving and the sight is one of supreme majesty.
Their Majesties seat themselves on the royal marble thrones with porphyry coloured coverings and greet those present. To the right the cabinet ministers are seated, the members of the Holy Synod, and the foreign clergy in Athens, among whom is to be found the famous Father Didon residing in Athens. To the left is the diplomatic corps, the royal retinue, the foreign representativesetc. Then the Crown Prince advances towards the King with full respect, together with all the members of all the committees of the Games, and delivers the following speech while all the public rises.
The fulfilment of the decision of the international congress of the Olympic Games which was convened in Paris that these be held for the first time in Athens, was one which imposed itself on the country in which these Games have their birth and prospered.
In order to carry out this decision, whatever was possible was done in a short time. I am persuaded that the imperfections of the undertaking will be judged with just indulgence as due to the natural difficulties and the lack of instruction which only acquired experience can teach.
"Through common noble contests Greece is closer bound, Oh King, with the rest of the civilised world in this very place, which invokes so many memories, in the Panathenian Stadium which has been renovated by the generous patriot, George Averoff.
May it be, oh King, that the revival of Olympic Games binds closer the links of mutual affection of the Greek and of other peoples, whose representatives for the Olympic Games we consider ourselves happy to welcome here. May it be that it brings new life into physical exercises and the moral outlook and that it contributes to the formation of a new Greek generation worthy of its ancestors.
With these hopes, I pray, Oh King, that you graciously agree to declare the opening of the first International Olympic Games.
I declare the opening of the first International Olympic Games in Athens. Long live the Nation! Long live the Greek People!
He raised his right hand. Immediately thunderous cheers arose from all the vast space answering the royals words.
Silence having been re-established, all the bands concentrate in the middle of the arena and to them are added a great number of musicians with chord instruments and a great crowd of singers. The direction of all this gathering of musicians is undertaken by the distinguished Greek composer Spyridon Samaras whom the Council of the Olympic Games entrusted with the composition of the Hymn of the Games, of which the words had been written, at the instruction of the same committee, by Costis Palamas. The poem is as follows:
Ancient immortal spirit, unsullied father of that which is beautiful, great and true, Descend, make thyself known and shine hero on this earth and below these skies witness of Thy Glory.
Illuminate the endevour of the noble contests in the running race, the wrestling and the throwing. Place a wreath of evergreen branch, creating the body as of iron and worthy.
Vales, mountains and oceans shine with Thee Like unto a great temple of white and porphyry. To which all peoples hasten to this temple to worship Thee, Oh ancient immortal Spirit.
Rising from so many mouths of the songsters and from those hundreds instruments a wave of sonorous harmony fills the air. That hymn sung in the open air in full sunshine, in the presence of tens of thousands of spectators, moved with emotion, has something of especial worthyness. The musical composion of Mr. Samaras is universally deemed to be most successfull. The melody, gentle and peaceful at the begining gradually warms up to more lively tones and mounts to a triumphal crescendo of voices and echoes creating a most lively impression. The innumerable Spectators cover the end of the hymn with enthusiastic applause. All, including the King, demand its repetition, which is caried out with the same enthusiastic signs of approval.
The sacred moment is now to hand. The Games are about to begin. The athletes of the various nationalities who have registered to take part have drawn up in double row in the arena for the arrival of the Royal Family, exciting general interest by the harmonious build of their bodies. A trumpeting is heard. The first event is about to take place. The bands depart from the arena and are placed in various tiers, where at various intervals they play marches.
The contestants who are to take part in the first event emerge from the dressing room at the end of the tunnel. They are all lightly dressed. They are wearing a flannel shirt, short socks, and light shoes. Each has on his breast the number of the order of his registration. They are twenty in number, and since they cannot all run together they are divided into three heats. The Olympic authorities were drawn up as follows:
President: H.R.H. The Crown Prince Constantine
Ephors: H.R.H. Prince George as President; I. Phokianos, the much lamented professor of physical education, who soon after died, as Vice-President; N. Politis, University Professor; I. Genisarlis, artillery captain; G. Streit, assistant professor, president of the students club, as members.
Agonodicae (judges): H.R.H. Prince George, umpire; M. Ph. Kémény, leader of the Hungarian team of athletes; Dr. Gebhardt, German; Mr. Fabeus, French; H. Finis, English; Constantine Manes.
Chief Starter: Constantine Manes.
Starter: S. Arvanitis.
Official Chronometer: Charles Ferry.
Second Heat. This heat includes the Greek, A. Chalkokondylis, a member of the Athens Athletic Club. Encouraging cheers from all directions greet the very young Greek runner. But the first to reach the finishing tape is the American Curtis, who arrives first in 12 1/5 secs. Chalkokondylis is second.
Third Heat. An American is again first in this heat, Burke, who covers the distance in 12 secs. Second is the German Hoffmann.
The crowd enthusiastically applauds the winners of each heat. The contest was a trial. The first and seconds of each heat will compete in the final race, next Friday, the Fifth day of the Games.
They all jump in turn. Yet immediately the superiority of the American Connoly is evident. Outstanding is the young Frenchman by nationality, who, however, was brought up in Athens, Tuff´eri. Yet Persakis also shows so much grace and mobility in his jumps. After much rivalry Connolly emerges first, having jumped 13.71 metres. Tuff´eri comes second with 12.70 m. and Persakis third with 12.52.
The event is final. The result of the jump of the winner Connolly is marked on the black-board. He is a citizen of the City of Suffolk, of which he is a member of the Athletic Club. At the same time the American flag is hoisted at the entrance of the stadium on the mast erected for this purpose, by ratings of the Greek Royal Navy, delegated for this. The whole of the populace frenziedly cheers and applauds. But most particular joy is expressed by the American's fellow men who countrycheer in their own peculiar way.
First Heat. The runners, of whom none are Greek, run twice around the track. The first to finish is the Australian Flack, who appears to be an experienced runner. He covered the distance in 2'. 11''. while second is the Hungarian Dani.
Second Heat. First is the Frenchman Lermusiaux, a young Parisian, who covered the distance in 2'16 3/5. Second came the very young Athenian, D. Golemis.
In all there are 11 participants, of whom one a Frenchman, one a Swede, one an American, one an Englishman, three Danes, one German and three Greeks, the two above mentioned and Papasideris. Above all this event has an international character owing to the variety of the nationalities of those taking part.
They all stand wearing a cloak or overcoat over the light athletic tunic, since the cold is becoming more intense and each is called in turn to throw the discus. Yet from the inexpert way in which most throw it, it would seem that they are totally untrained. On the contrary the dexterity and the incomparable grace of the Greek discus-throwers immediately causes a lively impression among the spectators. Versis especially, with the indescribable plastic beauty of a young man, looks like a statue of remarkable beauty brought to life, and carries the admiration of the foreign visitors.
Gradually most withdraw and there remain in the contest the two Greeks Versis and Paraskevopoulos and the American Garrett. Versis, however, in spite of the fame that he enjoys, is not in a position to keep up, and the event becomes a duel between Paraskevopoulos and Garrett. The Greek athlete in his last throw hurls the discus 28.95 1/2 m. The cheers and applause echoes loudly, and all consider Paraskevopoulos as winner. But Garrett makes his last throw of the discus to a distance of 29.15 m. Final winner is definitely Garrett, beating Paraskevopoulos by only 19 1/2 centimetres. When the result was announced there was a certain despondency and disappointment. Yet, when for the second time the American flag was hoisted on the mast, all applauded heartily.
First Heat.The American Jameson is first, covering the distance in 56 4/5 sec. Second is the German Hoffmann.
Second Heat.First is the American Burke covering the distance in 58 2/5 sec. Second is the Englishman Smelin.
With this event the programme of the first day comes to an end. The Royal party departs amid enthusiastic cheering. All the bands play the royal anthem while the crowds emerge from the stadium and pour into the city.
A most fine festivity follows in the evening. The city floats in lights, while a gay sound permeates the air. Stadium Street and Constitution Square with their illuminated arcs are an exceptional sight. The concourse to all the centres is unparalleled, while the foreign athletes are recognised and become the object of greeting and sympathetic interest. The guilds have carried out magnificent torch-bearing processions. The sight of the departue of the bands was beautiful, under the gay notes of which the first day, so full of moving experiences, was concluded.