Today we know the Olympics to be about winning, however in 1896 the focus was on competing. Therefore all participants received a bronze medal. Although there is more to be gained from winning and losing, the reason for the focus being on competing was that 1896 marked the very first modern Olympics. Furthermore, there were only 241 athletes! Distributing 241 bronze medals definitely sounds characteristic of the Gilded Age!
A Frenchman named Pierre de Coubertin not only revived the Olympic games, but also tried to model them as closely as possible to the original ancient Greek games. According to the Smithsonian, the ancient Olympians valued competition over winning. (see the medal here, at the Smithsonian's link) However the official Olympic website reports that winning was definitely the goal for many an athlete... which is actually perfectly normal and raises the excitement for all. I love the competition of the Olympics and of course I root for my home team of America every time. Nevertheless, it's fun to see other great athletes win too...especially after hearing their personal stories. We are all human. We all have stories. At the end of the day we all cheer one another on to be the best we can possibly be. After all, with each person striving to be their best, the bar is raised so that we are inspired to do our best. And part of being our best, is to cheer one another on.
At the 1896 Olympics the Greeks yearned to win the marathon, not only because they wanted to relive their history but also because this was a special historic moment. They were the host nation. How incredible would it be, after all these centuries, if they could repeat history on the very soil their ancestors competed? "Spyridon Louis set off from the city of Marathon and took the lead four kilometres from the finish line and, to the joy of the 100,000 spectators, won the race by more than seven minutes." (https://www.olympic.org/athens-1896)
A gallery of photographs and more fascinating facts are available at https://www.olympic.org/athens-1896