How The Winners Of The First Modern Olympics Compare To Today’s Athletes

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Vote up the most substantial improvements in the 100+ years of Olympic games.

The first modern-day Olympics were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece. As with any new event, there were some hiccups. Some of the visiting athletes didn't have the correct training equipment. The Americans nearly missed the Olympics because they had the wrong start date

But the athletes pushed through, and the Games became a success - bringing some of the first memorable moments in the long history of the Olympics. When comparing athletic performance between those maiden events and today, it's fascinating to see how much athletes have stepped up their game. The current Olympics records are minutes faster and many meters farther. However, we can't blame them too much - this was long before the invention of much of the equipment our athletes use today. 

(A note: You'll notice no women competed in the 1896 Olympics. This changed in the 1900 Olympics when 22 of the 997 athletes were women. In the 2020 Olympics, almost 5,500 women competed, while almost 6,000 men competed.)


  • Discus
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    209 VOTES


    1896: Robert Garrett (USA) - 29.15m

    2020: Daniel Stahl (Sweden) - 68.9 m

    In 1896, the discus had not yet made its way to the United States. In fact, to train for the Olympic event to be held in Greece, Robert Garrett had to study ancient Greek drawings to estimate the size of the object. He gave the rough dimensions to a New Jersey blacksmith to construct a prototype. 

    Garrett had a difficult time throwing the 30-pound disc at all but still tried to master it in practice. Upon arriving in Greece, Garrett was told that the discus the Greeks used was only 5 pounds—and two-thirds the diameter of his prototype. Despite never throwing this object before, Garrett ended up winning gold, adding to his gold in shot put, and silvers in the long jump and high jump. 

    209 votes
  • 2
    216 VOTES

    Shot Put

    1896: Robert Garrett (USA) - 11.22m

    2020: Ryan Crouser (USA) - 23.3m

    Ryan Crouser has cemented himself as one of the all-time shot-putting greats.

    In the sport of shot put, 22 meters is a magic number. Only 31 men ever have thrown past 22 meters in shot put competition, and it's considered the benchmark of the best shot putters. These 31 men have thrown over 22 meters a total of 419 times. Crouser alone accounts for 141 of those throws - one-third - and he's only 29 years old. 

    216 votes
  • 1500 Meters
    Photo: Erik van Leeuwen / Wikimedia Commons / GNUF
    155 VOTES

    1500 Meters

    1896: Edwin Flack (Australia) - 04:33

    2020: Jakob Ingebrigtsen (Norway) - 03:28

    Jakob Ingebrigtsen became the second youngest winner ever of the 1500m at the age of 20.

    In his first Olympic games, he also set a new Olympic record - over a full minute faster than the time of the gold medal winner at the 1896 games. 

    155 votes
  • Pole Vault
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    124 VOTES

    Pole Vault

    1896: William Hoyt (USA) - 3.3m

    2020: Armand Duplantis (Sweden) - 6.02m

    Only five men competed in the 1896 pole vault Olympic event. The three Greek athletes were eliminated early, and it ended up being a battle between William Hoyt, who went to Harvard, and Albert Tyler, of Princeton.

    Hoyt went on to get the gold, while Tyler settled for silver.

    124 votes
  • Marathon
    Photo: Burton Holmes / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    144 VOTES


    1896: Spyridon Louis (Greece) 2:58.50

    2020: Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) 2:08.38 

    The 1896 marathon was 24.8 miles, versus the current distance of 26.2. Why was this the case? 

    The original marathon was based on the story of a messenger in ancient Greece, who ran without stopping from Marathon to Athens - a distance of nearly 25 miles. 

    However, it's rumored that when London hosted the 1908 Games, Queen Alexandra requested that the race start in front of Windsor Castle and end in front of the royal box at the Olympic stadium - exactly 26.2 miles away. 

    Another fun fact: In the 1896 marathon, the third-place finisher was disqualified after having ridden in a car for part of the race.

    144 votes
  • 6
    124 VOTES

    High Jump

    1896: Ellery Clark (USA) - 1.81m

    2020: Gianmarco Tamberi (Italy) & Mutaz Essa Barshim (Qatar) - 2.37m

    In one of the most heartwarming moments in recent Olympic history, Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Essa Barshim both walked away as gold medalists. Each had just cleared 2.37m; however, neither could pass 2.39m after three attempts apiece. 

    Typically, this would result in a jump-off. However, this time, Barshim asked, "Can we have two golds?" The celebration that ensued after is sure to put a smile on anyone's face.

    124 votes