Cycling at the First Modern Olympics

<strong>Connie Carpenter-Phinney (left) beats Rebecca Twigg to the finish line of the women's road race at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.</strong><br><br><em>Photo: Steve Powell/Getty Images</em>

Cycling has a deep Olympic history and was one of the first sports included in what is considered the Modern Olympic Games.

Before heading into details about our sport, let's take a look at some history.

Ancient Olympics

The ancient Olympic Games began in 776 B.C. with a single foot race, the stade race, which was the length of the stadium. Over the next 576 years, 19 more sports were added to the program and the Games grew from one day to five. Various distances of foot races were the earliest events, with wrestling and pentathlon (discus, jumping, javelin, running and wrestling) getting added to the 18th Olympiad.

Looking at the list of sports added through 200 B.C., you can find boxing, horse and mule racing, chariot racing and specific running races in armor—expected sports of ancient Greek and Roman times.

The ancient Games had links to the worship of Greek and Roman gods. These Games suffered a fatal blow with the rise of Christianity. In 392 A.D. the Roman emperor Theodosius banned the worship of all pagan Greek and Roman gods. Although it appears that Olympic Games were held between 392 and 551 A.D., record keeping deteriorated compared to the early years.

Modern Olympics

While there were several others that had involvement ahead of him, the modern Olympic movement is credited to French nobleman Baron Pierre de Coubertin. His interests were in humanism, education and sport. He lectured on the importance of all three areas in the shaping of a well-rounded citizen and believed that athletic competition could become an important instrument for peace.

From the International Olympic Committee Olympic Charter:

Modern Olympism was conceived by Pierre de Coubertin, on whose initiative the International Athletic Congress of Paris was held in June 1894. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) constituted itself on 23 June 1894. The first Olympic Games (Games of the Olympiad) of modern times were celebrated in Athens, Greece, in 1896. In 1914, the Olympic flag presented by Pierre de Coubertin at the Paris Congress was adopted. It includes the five interlaced rings, which represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games. The first Olympic Winter Games were celebrated in Chamonix, France, in 1924.

In 1896, 19 men from five nations competed in the first Olympic cycling events. There were five track events and a road race. The track races included a 2K sprint, a 1/3K time trial, 10K, 100K and a 12-hour race. Seven athletes began the 12-hour event at 5:00 a.m., and four dropped out before noon. A third gave up later in the afternoon and only two athletes completed the entire 12-hour time period.

The 1896 road race was an out-and-back course following the same path as the marathon.

It would take nearly 100 years for women's cycling events to be included in the Games. In 1984 the women's road race was contested at the Los Angeles Olympics. American athletes Connie Carpenter-Phinney and Rebecca Twigg took the gold and silver medals, respectively.

Organization Basics

The main organizing body of the Olympic Games is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), with headquarters at Château de Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland. The current—and eighth—IOC president is Jacques Rogge. While you cannot visit headquarters, you can visit the Olympic Museum located at Ouchy, Lausanne.

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