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Poster for the 1900 Summer Olympics
Poster for the 1900 Summer Olympics

The 1900 Summer Olympics (French: Les Jeux olympiques d'été de 1900), today officially known as the Games of the II Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event that took place in Paris, France, in 1900. No opening or closing ceremonies were held; competitions began on 14 May and ended on 28 October.

The Games were held as part of the 1900 World's Fair. In total, 997 competitors took part in 19 different sports.[1] This number relies on certain assumptions about which events were and were not "Olympic". Many athletes, among them some who won events, didn't know that they had competed in the Olympic Games. Women took part in the games for the first time, and sailor Hélène de Pourtalès, born Helen Barbey in New York City,[2] became the first female Olympic champion. The decision to hold competitions on a Sunday brought protests from many American athletes, who travelled as representatives of their colleges and were expected to withdraw rather than compete on their religious day of rest.

At the Sorbonne conference of 1894, Pierre de Coubertin proposed that the Olympic Games should take place in 1900 in Paris. The delegates to the conference were unwilling to wait six years and lobbied to hold the first games in 1896. A decision was made to hold the first Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens and that Paris would host the second celebration.

Most of the winners in 1900 did not receive medals, but were given cups or trophies. Professionals competed in fencing and Albert Robert Ayat (France), who won the épée for amateurs and masters, was awarded a prize of 3000 francs.

Some events were contested for the only time in the history of the Games, including automobile and motorcycle racing,[3] ballooning,[4] cricket,[5] croquet,[6] Basque pelota,[7] and 200m swimming obstacle race and underwater swimming.[8] This was also the only Olympic Games in history to use live animals (pigeons) as targets during the shooting event.[9]

The host nation of France fielded 72% of all athletes (720 of the 997) and won the most gold, silver and bronze medal placings. U.S. athletes won the second-most in each, while fielding fewer than 8% of the participants (75 of 997).[10]


The 1900 Games were held as part of the 1900 Exposition Universelle. The Baron de Coubertin believed that this would help public awareness of the Olympics and submitted elaborate plans to rebuild the ancient site of Olympia, complete with statues, temples, stadia and gymnasia. The director of the Exposition Universelle, Alfred Picard, thought holding an ancient sport event at the Exposition Universelle was an "absurd anachronism".[11] After thanking de Coubertin for his plans, Picard filed them away and nothing more came of it.

A committee was formed for the organization of the Games, consisting of some of the more able sports administrators of the day and a provisional program was drawn up. Sports to be included at the games were track and field athletics, swimming, wrestling, gymnastics, fencing, French and British boxing, river and ocean yacht racing, cycling, golf, lifesaving, archery, weightlifting, rowing, diving and water polo.

British and Irish sports associations announced a desire to compete, as did a number of powerful American universities and sports clubs. Competitors from Russia and Australia also confirmed their intentions to travel to Paris.

On 9 November 1898, the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques ("Union of the French Societies for Athletic Sports" or USFSA) put out an announcement that it would have sole right to any organised sport held during the World's Fair. It was an empty threat but Viscount Charles de La Rochefoucauld, the nominated head of the organizing committee, stepped down rather than be embroiled in the political battle. The Baron de Coubertin, who was also secretary-general of the USFSA, was urged to withdraw from active involvement in the running of the Games and did so, only to comment later, "I surrendered – and was incorrect in doing so."

The IOC ceded control of the Games to a new committee which was to oversee every sporting activity connected to the 1900 Exposition Universelle. Alfred Picard appointed Daniel Mérillon, the head of the French Shooting Association, as president of this organization in February 1899. Mérillon proceeded to publish an entirely different schedule of events, with the result that many of those that had made plans to compete in concordance with the original program withdrew, and refused to deal with the new committee.

Between May and October 1900, the new organizing committee held an enormous number of sporting activities alongside the Paris Exposition. The sporting events rarely used the term of "Olympic". Indeed, the term "Olympic Games" was replaced by "Concours internationaux d'exercices physiques et de sport" ("International physical exercises and sports" in English) in the official report of the sporting events of the 1900 Exposition Universelle. The press reported competitions variously as "International Championships", "International Games", "Paris Championships", "World Championships" and "Grand Prix of the Paris Exposition".

De Coubertin commented later to friends: "It's a miracle that the Olympic Movement survived that celebration".


  • These Olympic Games were the first organised under the IOC Presidency of Pierre de Coubertin
  • Alvin Kraenzlein (United States) won the 60 metres (he was one of two people to ever win this event at the Olympic Games as it was withdrawn from Olympic competition after the 1904 Olympics), the 110 metre hurdles, the 200 metre hurdles and the long jump events; as of 2005, these four individual gold medals are still a record for a track and field athlete. For his victory in the long jump, he was allegedly punched in the face by his rival Meyer Prinstein, who was prevented from competing in the final by officials of Syracuse University because it was scheduled for a Sunday.
  • Hélène de Pourtalès became the first female Olympic champion as part of the winning team in the 1-2 ton sailing event. Charlotte Cooper was the first woman to win an individual Olympic event after winning the women's singles tennis competition. She later went on to win the mixed doubles tournament.
  • Three marathon runners from the United States contested the result saying the French runners who got first and second places took a short cut, and in fact they were the only contestants not spattered with mud.
  • In the coxed pairs and eights events in rowing, crews replaced adult coxswain with children. The identities and ages of these boys were not recorded but they are believed to have been among the youngest of all Olympic competitors.


The IOC has never decided which events were "Olympic" and which were not.[12] In fact, Pierre de Coubertin had ceded that entire determination to the organizers.[13] Weightlifting and wrestling had been dropped since the 1896 Summer Olympics, while 13 new sports were added. Swimming and water polo were considered to be two disciplines within a single sport of aquatics in the Olympic context. Among the sports below, only croquet was not an international competition, being contested by French players only. The number of events in each discipline is noted in parentheses.

More recently, the IOC website has affirmed a total of 95 medal events.[14] It appears that the IOC has accepted Olympic historian Bill Mallon's recommendation for events that should be considered "Olympic", based on four applied criteria. These events include two additional cycling events, Basque pelota and three of five additional sailing events, all of which appear in the IOC database. Four other recommended events are included: two equestrian and two sailing events, not in the database. These are reflected in the table below. Complete acceptance of Mallon' s recommendation would entail including one archery event (championnat du monde) and removing one shooting event (20 metre military pistol, which was an event for pros) from the database.[15]


14 venues were used at the 1900 Summer Olympics to host 20 sports.

Sport-by-sport overview

The standard of competition at the Games was variable. Despite a poor quality track, a strong contingent of top-class American collegiate athletes ensured the track and field competitions were of the highest quality. The tennis gold medalists were all former Wimbledon champions, swimming and fencing events were of a good standard and even polo, a minority sport for the social elite, was well represented by some of the best players in the game. Other sports were noticeably weak in both quality and depth. Only athletics, swimming and fencing had competitors from more than ten nations.

The history of the archery competition at the 1900 Olympics is one of confusion. The IOC currently lists six events with Olympic status, but a case has been made that as many as eight other events equally deserve to be considered part of official Olympic history. About 150 archers competed in the six events that later had official status conferred. However, as many as 5,000 were involved in archery competition in conjunction with the 1900 World's Fair. Belgian Hubert Van Innis took two gold medals and one silver and would add to his tally twenty years later in Antwerp.

The track and field events were held at the home of the Racing Club de France at the Croix-Catelan stadium in Bois de Boulogne. No track was laid and races took place on an uneven field of grass littered with trees. Additional events were held for professionals and a series of handicap races also took place. These are not considered official Olympic events.

In the seven events contested over 400 metres or less, the United States took 13 out of a possible 21 medals. Athletes from Columbia University, Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania all won gold medals. Indeed, two would-be dentists from the University of Pennsylvania were among the stars of the Games. Alvin Kraenzlein won 4 individual gold medals, a feat that has never repeated, while Walter Tewksbury took five medals including two golds. The hurdles in the 400 m hurdle race were 30-foot (9.1 m)-long telegraph poles arranged on the track and the race, uniquely in Olympic competition, had a water jump on the final straight. Adolphe Klingelhoeffer, who had Brazilian citizenship in 1900, competed for France in three events.

United States dominance in sprinting was matched in the longer track races by United Kingdom. Only George Orton, who won Canada's first Olympic title in the shorter of the two steeplechases, ruined a perfect record for the British. Orton won his title less than an hour after placing third in the 400 metre hurdles.

The most contentious of all the events in these Games began and ended in the Bois de Boulogne. Intended to follow the track of the old city wall, the course was poorly marked out and runners often got lost and had to double back on themselves before continuing. On some parts of the course, runners had to contend with distractions from cars, bicycles, pedestrians and animals. Arthur Newton of the United States finished fifth but stated he had not been passed by any other runner during the race. Another American, Richard Grant, claimed he was run down by a cyclist as he made ground on the leaders. French honour seemed to have been satisfied when Michel Théato crossed the finish line and a military band struck up La Marseillaise. However, modern research has revealed that Théato was born in Luxembourg and maintained Luxembourgian citizenship throughout his life.

The Hungarian discus thrower Rudolf Bauer was the only non-American crowned as Olympic Champion. American domination was even greater in the field events than the track events, with outstanding performances coming from Ray Ewry and Irving Baxter. Ewry started his Olympic career with a sweep of the three standing jumps, while Baxter finished second to Ewry three times and won both the regular high jump and pole vault. Meyer Prinstein became the first Jewish Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump.

The chistera form of the game was played at this, the sport's only appearance at full Olympic level. Two pairs entered and the Spanish partnerships of Amezola and Villota became their nations' first Olympic champions. The mano form of the game and a chistera tournament for professional players were contested unofficially.

After the withdrawal of teams from the Netherlands and Belgium, only two teams played in the cricket tournament. A team made up of players from the Albion Cricket Club and the Standard Athletic Club, two Paris clubs consisting almost exclusively of British expatriates, played a touring team from the southwest of England. The Devon and Somerset Wanderers were no more than a team of competent club cricketers (made up from Blundells School old boys and members of Castle Cary Cricket Club), and only Montagu Toller and Alfred Bowerman were deemed good enough to play at county level for Somerset. The game was played before a small crowd at the Vélodrome de Vincennes. An emphatic second innings bowling performance from Toller captured victory for the visitors as time appeared to be running out for them. If the French had held out for five more minutes the game would have declared a draw.[27] Knowledge of the game would have been lost but for the forethought of John Symes, a member of the victorious team, who kept a scorecard in his own writing.

The croquet tournament was notable as it marked the first appearance of women at Olympic level. Madame Desprès, Madame Filleul-Brohy and Mademoiselle Ohier were eliminated in the first round of competition. All players were French. A single paying spectator attended the tournament, an elderly English gentleman who travelled from Nice for the early stages. An unofficial two-ball handicap competition was also held.

The home nation won six of the nine medals available. A number of unofficial events were held for both amateurs and professionals.

Equestrian sport made its debut at the Olympic Games with three jumping events being held, plus two other events. The Italian rider Gian Giorgio Trissino won a gold and a silver. He narrowly missed making Olympic history by winning two medals in the same event. Competing with two different horses in the high jump, he jointly won the gold medal and finished in 4th place on his second horse.

Nineteen nations were represented in the fencing competition, which was held in a field near the cutlery exhibit at the 1900 World's Fair. French fencers dominated the proceedings but both Cuba and Italy also took titles. The early rounds of the foil competitions were judged on style rather than the actual result of the contest. This meant that some fencers were eliminated without losing a contest while others were defeated and still progressed to the next rounds.

The first football champions at the Olympics were the London amateurs of Upton Park F.C. A crowd of around 500 spectators saw them defeat their French rivals.

Margaret Ives Abbott, a student of art from Chicago, played in and won a nine-hole golf tournament on an October Tuesday in Paris. She died in 1955 without being aware that the tournament was part of the Olympic Games and she had become America's first ever female Olympic champion.

135 gymnasts took part in a competition that involved elements from track and field and weightlifting as well as gymnastic disciplines

Eight separate tournaments were held in 1900 as part of the 1900 World's Fair. Only the Grand Prix Internationale de l'Exposition is counted as an official medal event. Entries were from clubs rather than countries, and the winning Foxhunters club comprised English, Irish and American players.

Mexico won its first medal in this sport, a bronze won by Guillermo Hayden Wright, Marquez de Villavieja and three brothers: Eustaquio de Escandón y Barron, Pablo de Escandón y Barron and Manuel de Escandón y Barron.

Competitions were held on the River Seine. The coxed fours descended into farce when officials changed the qualifying criteria for the final several times. The first final was held without any of the original qualifiers, who had withdrawn as a protest against the decision to run six boats on a course laid out for only four. The officials then decided to run another "final" for the boycotting crews. Both events are considered official Olympic competitions. In a number of events crews saw the advantage of having ultra-lightweight coxswain and recruited local boys for the period of the Games. Most of these remain a mystery; some could have been under ten years old.

Three teams competed in the Rugby tournament. A French representative team defeated a team from the German city of Frankfurt and Moseley Wanderers from England. The Moseley team had played a full game of rugby in England the day before they made the journey to Paris. They arrived in the morning, played the match in the afternoon and were back in their home country by the next morning. The proposed game between the British and German sides was cancelled, and both are credited as silver medalists. The Franco-Haitian centre Constantin Henriquez become the first black gold medalist.

The 1900 sailing regatta differs from every other Olympic regatta in a number of ways. In most classes there were two distinct "finals", boats were assigned time handicaps according to their weight within each class and cash prizes were handed out to the winner of each race. The IOC initially recognized the winner of the first race in each class as Olympic champion except in the case of the 10-20 ton class, which was decided on aggregate time over three races. However currently the participants of both first and second races in 3 classes (0-0.5t, 1-2t and 2-3t) are present in the IOC database [40] as medalists, so the second races in these 3 classes were recognized by the IOC, as recommended by Olympic historian Bill Mallon.[15] To support the IOC recognized total of 95 medal events, it appears that one more race in each of 2 other classes (0.5-1t and 3-10t) has been recognized by the IOC, per Mallon's suggestion. Thus, for five of the eight events, two gold, two silver and two bronze medals were retrospectively awarded. Races were held at both Meulan and Le Havre and medals shared among five nations. France and Great Britain were the most successful of the countries involved. A number of people named as members of medal-winning crews by the IOC have been proved not to have competed; others have their participation seriously questioned by historical research.

Switzerland's Konrad Stäheli was the outstanding marksman of the Games, taking a trio of titles and leading his country to the top of the shooting medal table. The medals were shared between six different nations. There is a debate as to whether the live pigeon shooting event was a full Olympic event, Belgian Leon Lunden shot twenty-one birds on his way to the championship. Up to thirty unofficial shooting events were also held, most involving professional marksmen. Research has shown that one of the medal events in the IOC database (25m rapid fire pistol, also called military pistol cat. 6) was contested by professionals.[15]

The muddied waters of the Seine hosted the swimming events in 1900. Run with the current, the races produced very fast times by the standards of the day. John Arthur Jarvis of Great Britain, Frederick Lane of Australia and the German Ernst Hoppenberg each won two titles. Lane received a 50-pound bronze statue of a horse as a prize. A couple of unusual events were held. The obstacle race required both swimming underneath and climbing over rows of boats while Charles de Venville stayed submerged for over a minute to win the underwater swimming event.

A high quality men's tournament saw three past or future Wimbledon champions reach the semi-finals. Laurence Doherty reached the final when older brother Reggie stepped aside and let his sibling advance to the final. The two refused to play each other in what they considered a minor tournament. On the 11th of July a landmark was reached in the history of the Olympic Games. Charlotte Cooper, already three times Wimbledon champion, took the singles championship to become the first individual female Olympic champion, also winning the mixed doubles event.

A combined Sweden/Denmark team, made up of three competitors from each country, defeated the French team to win the title. One of the members of the French team was born in Colombia. They were left as the only participating teams; the United States had entered but were forced to scratch as three of their team were involved in the final of the hammer. Edgar Aaybe was a journalist covering the Games for the Danish newspaper Politiken and was asked to join the team when another puller was taken ill.

Osborne Swimming Club, representing Great Britain were unchallenged in the tournament, scoring 29 goals and conceding only 3 in their 3 matches. In the final, they limited the number of shots on goal to avoid humiliating their opponents. One of its team members was from New Zealand. Thomas William Burgess of the bronze medal-winning Libellule de Paris team, represented Great Britain in the swimming events.

Olympic status of sports and events

The 1900 games were not governed by a specific Olympic organizing committee, but instead held as an appendage to the 1900 World's Fair. An enormous number of events was held, though many fall short of the standards later required for Olympic championship status. Decisions as to which Olympic events are termed "official" and which have "unofficial" or "demonstration" status are usually left to the Olympic organizing committees and/or the IOC. In the absence of any overall authority capable of making an official distinction of this kind, no decision as to the official status of any event was made at the time of the Games. A document from 1912 exists, listing results from the 1900 Games, but the reliability and authenticity of this paper is questioned by Olympic historians. This document formed the original basis of the results of the Paris games in the IOC database.[28] However, the IOC has never decided which events were "Olympic" and which were not.[12]

All events satisfying all four of these retrospective selection criteria — restricted to amateurs, international participation, open to all competitors and without handicapping — are now regarded as Olympic events, except for those in one sport — ballooning. Croquet, motorboating and boules satisfied three criteria (all had only French players). Only croquet has been accorded Olympic status.[15] (One of the ten croquet players, Marcel Haëntjens, had been thought to have been Belgian. Thus the croquet events were considered as international. Despite the Flemish name, Haëntjens was French.) Like all the Olympic events widely regarded as official, there were other events conducted during the 1900 World's Fair.[29][30][12]

In addition to these, 71 scholastic and 92 military events were also held across a range of sports.

Participating nations

According to an International Olympic Committee imprint, 24 nations sent competitors to the 1900 Olympic Games.[1] Modern research shows that athletes from the following 28 countries participated in the Games:[15][31]

Some sources also list athletes from the following nations as having competed at these Games.

Other modern nations could be considered to have competed in some form in 1900. Algeria, Croatia, Ireland, Poland and Slovakia had athletes competing, but none of these were independent at the time. Algeria was part of France and sent four gymnasts who competed for France. What is now the Republic of Ireland was then part of Great Britain and had athletes who competed in athletics, polo, sailing and tennis. A Croatian fencer represented Austria, a Polish fencer for Russia and a pair of Slovaks competed for Hungary[15]

The concept of "national teams" chosen by National Olympic Committees did not exist at this point in time.

Medal count

Gold medals were not given at the 1900 Games; instead, most of the winners were given cups or trophies. In some events, a silver medal was given for first place and a bronze medal was given for second. The International Olympic Committee has retrospectively assigned gold, silver and bronze medals to competitors who earned 1st, 2nd and 3rd-place finishes, respectively, in order to bring early Olympics in line with current awards.[15] For Olympic Games before 1908 there is no universally accepted definition of nationality, and medal tables may vary depending on the chosen definition. For example, Australian Stanley Rowley competed as part of a team selected by the Amateur Athletic Association of England. The concept of "national teams" chosen by National Olympic Committees did not exist at this point in time.

These are the top ten nations that won medals at the 1900 Games.

Key   Host nation (France)

See also

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