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Olympic color from 1896

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The following is an account from the 1896 Olympics by Thomas Pelham Curtis '94, MIT hurdler, who won the 110-meter hurdles that year. (As recorded in the July 24, 1924 issue of Technology Review)

"...Athens presented a splendid appearance. It was a small city built of very white houses, with white streets, white sidewalks and white everything, and with that background the thousands upon thousands of flags of every color and kind showed out in striking contrast, making the city seem almost like a huge kaleidoscope. Crowds paraded the streets daily with bands, cheering, shouting, and yelling. All business was at a standstill, and during the actual time that the Games were taking place not a shop or business place of any kind was open.

"At a little before two o'clock in the afternoon we drove to the dressing rooms just beyond the Stadium and at two sharp appeared in running clothes in the Stadium itself, just as the Games were about to commence. The sight that met our eyes was one never to be forgotten. Row after row of people all dressed in holiday attire lined the seats of the Stadium, while at the end sat the King and Royal Family of Greece, the King of Serbia, two Grand Dukes of Russia, and hundreds of officers of different nationalities, all in the gayest of uniforms. A band of almost 200 pieces was playing in the center of the arena the National Anthems of Greece, and altogether the sight was most impressive. Eighty-two thousand people were seated and thirty thousand more, for whom there was no room, were standing tier on tier on a hill that towered above one side of the seats.

"...One noticeable point was the total lack of organized cheering, which form of expression seems to be confined entirely to this country. Our team was assigned a box in the front row of the Stadium, some fifty feet from that of the King and Queen, and we gave at intervals the standard B. A. A. cheer whenever one of our number was successful in an event. We found we were listened to with a great deal of interest and surprise, so much so that when we had given no cheer for an hour or more the special aide of King George walked solemnly down from the Royal Box, stopped in front of our box, and touching his hat, said in the most solemn voice, 'His Majesty, the Kink--requests--that for him--once more--you will make--that peculiar noise.' This we promptly did--the King standing and touching his cap in acknowledgment.

"After the Games were over, when taking breakfast with the King one morning, he again insisted that we should repeat the same cheer. It seemed to cause him great amusement and interest. You can imagine our surprise some week or ten days later when, on leaving Athens, we were met at the Railroad Station by the entire student body of the College at Athens, who, as our train pulled out, burst into what they considered a cheer in Greek similar to the one they had heard us give.

"...One thing only remained to keep us in Athens after this, and that was the giving of the prizes. Once more the huge crowd assembled for a ceremony that proved to be most impressive. A platform had been put up at the end of the Stadium directly in front of the King's box, and on this were placed the prizes, which consisted of an olive branch cut from the sacred grove of Olympus, a large silver medal especially designed, and a diploma, consisting of a symbolic engraving giving the name of the winner, the race won, etc., in Greek letters.

"The second men received a branch of laurel and a bronze medal. The successful competitors were drawn up in two lines on either side of the platform, winners on one side and second men on the other, while Captain Hadjipetro, the Aide-de-Camp of Prince George, called out in a stentorian voice the name of each man, his nationality, and the race that he had won.

"As each man's name was called he ascended the steps of the platform and received from the King his prizes, after which the King shook hands with him and congratulated him. As soon as all had received their prizes, a procession of the victors was formed, and with Loues leading, carrying the Greek flag, we marched solemnly around the track amid the frantic cheers of the crowd, who at every wave of Loues' flag would shriek with joy. They were like children. As soon as the circuit was completed, the King advanced to the Crown Prince, and in the presence of everyone, kissed him on both cheeks, declaring in Greek that the Olympic Games of 1896 were over. After this, as soon as the King and Royal Family had withdrawn, the crowd dispersed and we were left to our own devices until the day should come on which we were to leave.

"During the week following the Games, our American team was involved in continuous fetes. We were shown about the country by the three Princes, took dinner with them, went to dances and cotillions at the American Minister's, Russian Minister's, and elsewhere, and in our progress through the streets were greeted with cries of "Nike, Nike" [Victor]. Small shopkeepers insisted that we enter their stores and accept neckties, handkerchiefs, etc., for which they refused to accept payment, and which we were warned we should accept in order not to cause hurt feelings... "

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