295 (all male) competed in the 1896 Olympics. Approximately 2,400 competed in Salt Lake City in 2002.
The first modern Olympic Games were held in Greece in 1896, to commemorate the Greeks? ancient Olympic Games. Demetrios Bikelas, a Greek man as well as the president of the IOC, was largely responsible for their success. He appointed Stephanos Dragoumis as head of the Grecian organizing committee, who unfortunately showed little enthusiasm. It was only with great effort that Dragoumis was persuaded to make progress on the games. The Grecian Prime Minister also opposed the Games on financial grounds, and it was only with his political defeat by the opposition that the Olympics gained political support in Greece. The games also received the support of Greece?s Crown Prince Constantine, Timoleon Philemon (a former mayor of Athens), and George Avernoff. Avernoff provided the funds to restore Greece?s ancient stadium (constructed by Roman emperor Hadrian) for the Games.
One of the difficulties Coubertin faced was that in 1896, there were not many international governing organizations dedicated to specific sports, and as such it was difficult to standardize.
There was not much international enthusiasm to participate in these first Olympics. The Russians, who were still under czarist rule, did not send many athletes (although in retrospect this is not too surprising). The British only sent a half-dozen athletes, and while the United States sent ten athletes, nearly all were current students at Harvard or Princeton (and thus not necessarily representative of the Americans? amateur sports establishment). The Germans sent thirteen athletes (ten of them were gymnasts, in keeping with the German Turnen tradition), but were largely skeptical of what they saw as ?French shenanigans,? as the Deutsche Turnerschaft, put it (The Turnerschaft later expelled athletes who had participated in the first Olympics.). The French held aloof, criticizing the attending athletes as ?second-rate,? and undistinguished, and voicing their aversion to competitive sport in general. Coubertin, however, remained optimistic, and the Games did go on. They began in Greek style, with the release of doves, and an address from the Greek king. The Americans were particularly successful in the track and field events, while the Germans dominated the gymnastics. In a fitting result, a Greek man won the marathon, accompanied in the final stretch through the stadium by two of the attending Greek princes.
The Greeks, who felt particularly nationalistic at these first Games, did not mention Coubertin much in official documents, and some virulently denied his involvement in their creation. They even went so far as to demand that the Games be held in Greece every four years, rather than change location.