James Connolly

On April 6th 1896, James Connolly became the first Olympic champion of modern times. Which country did he represent?
And the answer: United States of America.
Photo credit: public domain. 

The 27-year-old athlete from Boston became the first Olympic champion in over 1500 years when he won the triple jump competition. He went on to place second in the high jump and third in the long jump.    

Since the modern iteration of the Olympic Games, thousands of athletes have claimed a medal, whether that be gold, silver or bronze. At the time of his gold medal win, James Connolly was a student at Harvard. Desperate to compete at the Olympic Games, Connolly submitted a request for a leave of absence which, according to Harvard records, was denied. Connolly then requested an honorable withdrawal as a student, which was granted. Meanwhile, the track-and-field program at the 1896 Athens competition was dominated by athletes from the USA, who would go on to win nine of the 12 events.

To no one's surprise, the most decorated Olympic athlete in modern history is Michael Phelps, with a whopping 28 Olympic medals (23 of which are gold). Interestingly, though, gold medals are now mainly made of silver— production of solid gold medals lasted only up until 1912 (I'm sure that makes the load a lot lighter for athletes like Phelps).

Significantly, the United States entered the 2021 games with over 2,800 medals won, while no other country has won 1,000. The United Kingdom is second with 883. Additionally, the United States is the only country in the world that has hosted the Summer Olympics four times. In 2028, the United States will host the games for the fifth time. St. Louis (1904) and Atlanta (1996) were past notable American hosts of the Summer Games.

Learn more about the Olympics in its modern iteration here.

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