Olympic Summer Games 1896

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Games of the I. Olympiad
Olympic rings
Venue: Athens ( Greece )
Stadion: Panathinaic Stadium
Opening ceremony: March 25th jul. / April 6,  1896 greg. *
Closing ceremony: April 3rd jul. / April 15,  1896 greg. *
Opened by: George I of Greece
Olympic oath : - (only from 1920 )
Disciplines: 10 (9 sports)
Competitions: 43
Countries: 14th
Athletes: 241 (241 Mars symbol (male))
Paris 1900
Medal table
city ​​square country silver bronze 3rd place total
1 United States 44United States United States 11 7th 2 20th
2 Kingdom of GreeceKingdom of Greece Greece 10 17th 19th 46
3 Deutsches ReichThe German Imperium Deutsches Reich 6th 5 2 13th
4th FranceFrance France 5 4th 2 11
5 United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Great Britain 2 3 2 7th
6th Hungary 1867Hungary Hungary 2 1 3 6th
7th Austrian EmpireEmpire of Austria Austria 2 1 2 5
8th United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Australia 2 - - 2
9 DenmarkDenmark Denmark 1 2 3 6th
10 SwitzerlandSwitzerland Switzerland 1 2 - 3
11 Mixed teamMixed team Mixed team 1 1 1 3
Total 43 43 36 122

The 1896 Summer Olympics (officially called the Games of the First Olympiad ) took place in Athens from April 6 to April 15, 1896 . It was the first Olympic Games after the ancient Olympic Games were banned in 393 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I because of the worship of pagan gods.

Although the Games hardly produced top-class sporting performances even for the conditions at the time, they were generally regarded as a great success and were instrumental in ensuring that the Olympic Games were able to establish themselves in the long term. 241 athletes took part, women were not allowed, but were allowed to watch, unlike the ancient games. Even if the Olympic Games in 1896 were very small compared to today's events, they were of an unprecedented size for a sporting event.

Choice of venue

Title page of the official report, often incorrectly referred to as a poster

During the 19th century, smaller sports festivals took place in some European countries, which were named after the Olympic Games of antiquity, but had at most a national impact. The French pedagogue and historian Pierre de Coubertin wanted to transfer the great importance of the ancient games to modern times, for which numerous sports and an international field of participants were essential. On June 23, 1894, he presented his ideas at a congress that took place in the Sorbonne in Paris . Delegates from sports associations from eleven countries took part in the congress.

After the decision to revive the Olympic Games, the first venue had to be determined. De Coubertin's dream was actually to host the first modern games in 1900 on the occasion of the world exhibition in Paris. But the other delegates feared that because of the long waiting period of six years, interest could wane again. They therefore decided to hold the first Olympic Games as early as 1896. Some delegates wanted London to be the venue. But after a conversation with the Greek delegate Demetrius Vikelas , de Coubertin suggested Athens to honor Greece as the origin of the Olympic Games. The delegates unanimously approved this proposal and elected Vikelas as the first President of the newly established International Olympic Committee (IOC).


The news that the Olympics were about to return to Greece was greeted with goodwill by the Greek public and media. However, the country struggled with financial problems, was politically unstable due to constant changes of government and was unable to provide the necessary funds. In late 1894 the organizing committee published a report showing that the cost would be three times what Pierre de Coubertin had originally anticipated. The report concluded that the Games could not be held and the members of the organizing committee offered to resign.

Crown Prince Constantine , who had always supported the idea of ​​the Olympic Games, decided to form a new organizing committee with himself as chairman. After he began to publicly advertise the Games, large donations could be acquired, on the one hand from Greece itself, on the other hand from the important Greek communities in London, Marseille and Istanbul . In this way 330,000 drachmas came together. A series of special postage stamps brought in a further 400,000 drachmas, and ticket sales brought in 200,000 drachmas.

The Greek royal family also strongly promoted this event. Nicholas of Greece , a son of the Greek King George I , was the president of the shooting competitions. Other members of the royal family, for example George of Greece , also took part in the preparations. At the request of the Crown Prince, the wealthy businessman Georgios Averoff assumed all the costs for the new construction of the Panathinaiko Stadium. In total he donated about 920,000 drachmas. To honor his generosity, a statue of Averoff was created and unveiled the day before the games started. This is still in front of the stadium today.


The Panathinaiko Stadium, 1896

The Panathinaiko Stadium is a reconstruction of the ancient Athens stadium from 330 BC. BC, in which the ancient " Panathenaic Games " were played. In addition to the athletics competitions, the weightlifting, wrestling and gymnastics competitions were held in the Panathinaiko Stadium. The inside of the horseshoe was 236 meters long and the running track was 333.33 meters long during the Games. The architect Anastasios Metaxas used all the elements that were preserved for the reconstruction based on plans by Ernst Ziller . As time was running out, the marble cladding of the entire stand was abandoned and a temporary wooden one was built. This was embedded in such a way that it could not be recognized as such from a distance. In addition, it was painted white. The stadium had about 69,000 seats, including 50,000 seats. The total number of spectators for the first Olympic Games is estimated at around 312,000. There are said to have been 30 to 40 accredited journalists, including eight photographers.

According to contemporary reports, Athens was illuminated every night for the duration of the Games. Torchlight parades took place, bands played the national anthems of the individual countries, students visited the various team quarters and gave the teams an ovation. However, there were also organizational problems: The entire program of events and the invitations to evening events were written in Greek . In addition, the Julian calendar was still in force in Greece , so that the athletes who traveled there often had trouble finding the correct competition date .


The games were played under strict amateur rules - a provision that caused some controversy even then, as the precise definition of what an amateur is varied from country to country. Only the binding application of the rules of the international umbrella organizations (as far as they already existed) as well as the personal commitment of the crown prince and top referee of the games prevented a scandal several times. Exceptions were the fencing granted for professional fencing master in the officer rank an additional competition was held; Shooters received substantial material and cash prizes in all European countries, but were treated as amateurs. Athletes from Australia were only considered amateurs if they B. had paid for the crossing themselves as students, otherwise they would have lived from their club / association during the month-long crossing, which also contradicted the amateur rules.

The largest team was made up of the Greeks, followed by the Germans, the Americans and the French. The participants were not organized in national teams and qualifying competitions only took place in exceptional cases. For the UK, for example, there were two employees from the embassy in Athens. The first Olympic Games also sparked nationalist conflicts. The gymnasts in France , Belgium and the German Reich took an uncompromisingly oppositional stance against a joint event with the other sports that were decried as proletarian and English . Shortly before the registration deadline, newspaper articles appeared in the German Reich attempting to denounce the Olympic Games as a Franco-Greek and therefore unworthy event for Germans - with some success. The 21 German athletes who traveled to Athens anyway received a reprimand from the German Gymnastics Association . The pursuit of top performance was considered hazardous to health, unaesthetic and anti-social.


Participating Nations 1896
Number of athletes

The concept of national teams did not play a major role in the Olympic movement until the Olympic Intermediate Games in Athens in 1906 . Depending on the source, ten to fifteen nations took part in 1896, with most sources assuming the following fourteen countries (the number of athletes in brackets):

Europe (163 athletes from 11 nations)
America (15 athletes from 2 nations)
Oceania (1 athlete from 1 nation)
Others (8 athletes)
(Number of athletes)

Some sources refer to Dionysios Kasdaglis , who lives in Alexandria , as a representative of Egypt , but most (including the IOC) as a representative of Greece. The two athletes from Smyrna count as Greeks in almost all sources. Although Australia was an integral part of the United Kingdom at the time, Edwin Flack is listed as an Australian in the statistics. Austria and Hungary were part of the state Austria-Hungary , but the results of athletes from these countries were shown separately in the statistics. According to the territorial extent of Hungary at that time, those of athletes from Vojvodina and Slovakia are added to the Hungarian results .

The National Olympic Committee of Chile claims that an athlete named Luis Subercaseaux took part in the 100, 400 and 800 meter athletics competitions. His name is not mentioned in the official report. Belgium and Russia had registered participants, but withdrew them before the start of the games.

Outstanding athletes

The most successful participants
city ​​square athlete country sport silver silver bronze bronze Third total
01 Carl Schuhmann Deutsches ReichThe German Imperium GER Weightlifting
4th - 1 5
2 Hermann Weingärtner Deutsches ReichThe German Imperium GER do gymnastics 3 2 1 6th
3 Alfred Flatow Deutsches ReichThe German Imperium GER do gymnastics 3 1 - 4th
4th Paul Masson Third French RepublicThird French Republic FRA Cycling 3 - - 3
5 Robert Garrett United States 44United States USA athletics 2 2 - 4th
6th Fritz Hofmann Deutsches ReichThe German Imperium GER Athletics
2 1 1 4th

Note: The medals of the German gymnasts come partly from team competitions. This results in a higher number of medals than in the medal table of the nations.

The youngest participant was the ten-year-old Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras . The oldest was the American shooter Charles Waldstein at the age of 40. The youngest Olympic champion was the Greek Ioannis Malokinis , who won the swimming for sailors at the age of 16, the oldest the Greek shooter Georgios Orfanidis at 36 years.


Winners medal

The Olympic champions received a silver medal and an olive branch. The silver medal had the image of the Acropolis on one side and the face of Zeus on the other . Runner-ups were honored with bronze medals and olive branches. Some references speak of medals made of copper and a branch of laurel when honoring the runner-up . The third-placed finishers were left empty-handed, as the organizers' financial resources no longer allowed them. All award ceremonies took place on the final day under pouring rain. The gold medal that is common today and the honoring of the first three was not introduced until 1904. The IOC has now recognized the contemporary placements as gold, silver and bronze medals.

Competition program

The first Olympic Games held 43 competitions in 9 sports / 10 disciplines. All competitions were open to men only.

  • Fencing became Olympic with foil singles, sabers singles and foil for fencing masters for men.
  • Weightlifting was not divided into weight classes, but there was one-armed and two-armed competition.
  • Athletics was with 100 m, 400 m, 800 m, 1500 m, 110 m hurdles, marathon, high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump, shot put and discus throw in the Olympic program in Athens in 1896.
  • Cycling was represented in the program with sprints, 10 km, 100 km, 12-hour races, time trials and a road race.
  • Wrestling was part of the program with an open weight class in the Greco-Roman style .
  • In shooting there were competitions in rapid fire pistol, army rifle 200 m, army rifle any position 300 m, army pistol 25 m and free pistol 50 m.
  • Swimming was with 100 m freestyle, 500 m freestyle, 1200 m freestyle and 100 m sailor swimming in the Olympic program in Athens in 1896.
  • Tennis was represented with men's singles and men's doubles in Athens in 1896
  • Gymnastics was with parallel bars, pommel horse, horizontal bar, rings, jumping and rope hanging for men in the Olympic program - there were also team competitions in parallel bars and horizontal bar.
  • Competitions in football , cricket , rowing and sailing were also planned, but these were canceled due to the weather or due to insufficient number of participants.

Olympic sports / disciplines

Number of competitions in brackets

Time schedule

Time schedule
discipline Mon.
Olympic rings.svg Opening ceremony
Fencing pictogram.svg fencing 2 1 3
Weightlifting pictogram.svg Weightlifting 2 2
Athletics pictogram.svg athletics 2 4th 1 5 12th
Cycling Cycling (track) pictogram.svg rail 1 3 1 5
Cycling (road) pictogram.svg road 1 1
Wrestling pictogram.svg Wrestling 1 1
Shooting pictogram.svg shoot 1 1 3 5
Swimming pictogram.svg swim 4th 4th
Tennis pictogram.svg tennis 2 2
Gymnastics (artistic) pictogram.svg do gymnastics 6th 2 8th
Olympic rings.svg Closing ceremony
decisions 2 8th 1 9 8th 13th 1 1 43
discipline Mon.

Color legend

  • Opening ceremony
  • Competition day (no decisions)
  • Competition day (x decisions)
  • Closing ceremony
  • Ceremonies

    Opening ceremony

    Opening ceremony

    On April 6, the first modern Olympic Games were officially opened. The Panathinaiko stadium was filled to the last seat, and the Greek royal family was among the spectators. Most of the participating athletes had gathered inside and were grouped according to their nationality. After a speech by the President of the Organizing Committee, Crown Prince Constantine I , his father, King George I , opened the Games:

    “I declare the first international Olympic Games in Athens open. Long live the nation. Long live the Greek people. "

    Then nine marching bands and 150 choir singers performed the Olympic hymn . Spyros Samaras had composed it, Kostis Palamas wrote the text for it. The anthem met with approval and the audience asked for an encore.

    The opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games still contain elements of this short and simple celebration. The host country's head of state still officially opens the games and the Olympic anthem, which has had official status since 1958, is also played. Other elements such as the invasion of the athletes, the Olympic torch relay and the Olympic oath were only added at later events.

    Closing ceremony

    The closing ceremony took place in the stadium on Wednesday April 15th. Originally it should have taken place on Tuesday, but heavy rain had prevented the event. Again the royal family attended the ceremony. This began with the Greek national anthem . Then the British athlete and Oxford student George Stuart Robertson , who was fourth in the shot put and sixth in the discus, performed a self-written ode based on an ancient model. The king was so enthusiastic about it that he spontaneously honored Robertson with a sprig of laurel .

    The king then honored the successful athletes. The winners received silver medals, olive branches and certificates, the second-placed bronze medals, laurel branches and certificates. Individual winners also received special prizes. Among them was Spyridon Louis : He received from Michel Bréal , the inventor of the marathon race , a trophy. Louis then led the medalists' lap of honor through the stadium to the sound of the Olympic anthem . Finally, the king formally ended the event, saying:

    "I declare the first international Olympic Games over."


    Competitions to be carried out

    At the Congress of 1894 in Paris, the delegates had agreed on a higher number of sports than were actually played. The first version of the official announcement also included tournaments for soccer and cricket , for example , but these sports have been removed from the program.

    The rowing competitions should have taken place in the port of Piraeus , on the Bay of Phaleron. On the planned competition day, April 13th, however, there was strong wind and heavy rain, which prevented the seven competitions from being held. This also affected the two German athletes Berthold Küttner and Alfred Jäger , who were the only ones who competed and were awarded bronze medals by the Crown Prince. Sailing was also canceled because, according to the official report, "neither suitable boats were available nor made available to third parties".


    James Connolly became the first modern Olympic champion in the triple jump

    All athletics competitions took place in the Panathinaiko Stadium. Most of the nations were represented by far, namely nine. The Americans, whose team consisted of only ten athletes (including only one national champion), were the Olympic champions in nine out of twelve competitions. No world records were set because numerous successful athletes had not even started and the tight curves of the stadium did not allow for peak times.

    The very first winner of the Olympic event was Francis Lane (USA), who won a 100-meter run in 12.5 seconds. The first modern Olympic champion was James Connolly from the United States, who won the triple jump competition by over a meter. Harvard University had not given their student permission to travel to Athens. In order to still be able to participate, he de-registered himself; In 1949 his university awarded him an honorary doctorate.

    Robert Garrett , a student at Princeton University , won the discus throw competition in addition to the shot put. The latter discipline had never been held in international competitions before. Garrett had hired a blacksmith to make a disc from a scientific drawing. It weighed around ten kilograms and turned out to be too heavy to throw. When Robert Garrett learned that the discus used in the competition weighed only two kilograms, he signed up anyway. To the disappointment of the Greek spectators, who thought their athletes were unbeatable, the American won the competition.

    The most important competition from the hosts' point of view was the newly introduced marathon . It originated from the legend of Pheidippides , who reported the news of the victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon to the Athenians and who is said to have died of exhaustion afterwards. 50,000 spectators were waiting in the stadium itself, and the hills around the stadium were tightly lined. Cheers broke out when Spyridon Louis , a water carrier from Marousi , was the first to arrive at the stadium. The Greek princes Constantin and George accompanied him on the last round. Louis' official running time was 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds. Louis never competed in a race after winning the Olympic Games, but he became a national hero. Private individuals showered him with gifts, including a field called "Marathon Field", for which the Greek community of London had collected money.


    The fencing competitions took place in the Zappeion hall. In contrast to other sports, professionals were also eligible to participate in fencing. These so-called fencing masters were considered the epitome of honesty and therefore enjoyed the same reputation as amateurs. Four competitions were scheduled, but the epee fencing tournament was canceled for unknown reasons. A Frenchman, Eugène-Henri Gravelotte , won foil fencing , while the other two competitions, saber fencing and swords for fencing masters, were won by Greeks. Fencing master Leonidas Pyrgos was the first modern Greek Olympic champion.


    Launceston Elliot became Olympic champion in one-armed weightlifting

    The weightlifting was a relatively new sport late 19th century, and there was no internationally established rules and no weight classes. The two Olympic competitions took place in the open air in the inner field of the Panathinaiko Stadium.

    The first competition was two-armed weightlifting . UK native Launceston Elliot and Dane Viggo Jensen made the same weight. But the jury decided that Jensen had shown the "better style" and declared the Danes the winner. The British delegation, unfamiliar with this rule, protested. Both athletes went on to another round, but neither could improve their performance and nothing changed in the standings.

    Launceston Elliot returned the favor with the one-armed weightlifting that took place immediately afterwards. Jensen was slightly injured in his last two-handed attempt and was only second. The Greek audience was very impressed by Elliot's performance and also by his attractive appearance. A "lady in a high position" who had watched the competition allegedly made him a marriage proposal.


    The venue for the track cycling competitions was the newly built Neo Faliro Velodrome . The road race was 87 kilometers long, from Athens to Marathon and back again.

    The dominator of the track races was the Frenchman Paul Masson , who won the time trial over a track lap, the 2000-meter sprint and the 10,000-meter race . At the 100-kilometer track race , Masson set the pace for his compatriot Léon Flameng , who won despite a fall and a breakdown. The Austrian fencer Adolf Schmal won the 12-hour race , which was only finished by two drivers, while the Greek Aristidis Konstantinidis won the road race.


    In the only wrestling competition held in the Panathinaiko Stadium, there were no weight classes, so athletes of different stature competed against each other. The rules were similar to those of today's Greco-Roman style. There was no time limit, however, and unlike today, not all leg interventions were prohibited.

    Apart from the two Greek wrestlers, all participants had previously participated in other Olympic competitions. Launceston Elliot , the winner in weightlifting, for example, met Olympic gymnastics champion Carl Schuhmann . The latter won with ease and met the Greek Georgios Tsitas in the final . The fight had to be stopped after 40 minutes because of falling darkness and restarted the following morning. Schuhmann finally needed a quarter of an hour for the victory.


    The shooting competitions were held at the Skopeftirion shooting range in the suburb of Kallithea . There were five competitions, two for rifles and three for pistols .

    The first competition was military rifle shooting over 200 meters. The winner Pantelis Karasevdas was the only one who hit the target with all his shots. The second competition, military pistol shooting, was dominated by two American brothers, John Paine and Sumner Paine . To save the hosts from further embarrassment, the brothers decided that only one of them would compete in free pistol shooting. Sumner Paine won the competition and was the first relative of an Olympic champion who became an Olympic champion himself.

    The Paine brothers did not participate in the 25-meter pistol shooting because the jury found their guns were not of the required caliber. This competition was won by Ioannis Frangoudis , who also came second in free rifle shooting. Because of the falling darkness, the competition, which took place on the same day as the pistol shooting, could not be finished in time. The competition continued the following morning and was eventually won by Georgios Orfanidis .


    Alfréd Hajós became Olympic champion over 100 and 1200 meters

    Since there were no swimming pools or halls for the competitions, the swimming competitions had to be held in the open sea in the Bay of Zea near Piraeus . The water temperature was only 13 ° C. 19 swimmers from four countries were registered. All four competitions took place on the same day, so due to the tight schedule it was not possible for any athlete to take part in all competitions.

    Alfréd Hajós from Hungary competed twice and won the races in the 100 meter freestyle and 1200 meter freestyle, the latter with a lead of over two and a half minutes. 28 years later, Hajós became one of only two athletes to also win a medal in an Olympic arts competition .

    The 100 meter sailor swimming was a curiosity. Only sailors from the Greek warships in the port of Piraeus were allowed to take part in this competition. Of eleven registered "athletes" only three competed. Although the limitation of the field of participants actually contradicted the Olympic idea, the official character of the race was never later questioned, neither by Pierre de Coubertin nor by other influential members of the IOC.


    Tennis double finals of the Olympic Games 1896

    Although tennis was already one of the most important sports of all at the end of the 19th century, none of the world's best players had competed in the Olympic tournament. This took place on the courts of the Athens Lawn Tennis Club as well as on the inner field of the Velodrome .

    Irishman John Pius Boland - Ireland was still completely part of the United Kingdom - who happened to be in Athens on vacation, was registered for the tournament by a Greek friend - and won it with ease. In the first round he had defeated the German Friedrich Adolf Traun , who had previously been eliminated in the 800-meter run. Boland and Traun decided to take part in the doubles tournament, which they eventually won. The silver medal won was attributed to both countries.

    do gymnastics

    The gymnastics competitions took place in the inner field of the Panathinaiko Stadium. Despite opposition from the German Gymnastics Association, an eleven-person team had come from the German Reich and dominated the competitions. In the team competition on parallel bars , two Greek teams were defeated, there were no competitors on the horizontal bar . Three Germans also won several individual competitions: Hermann Weingärtner , who also came second twice and third once, won on the horizontal bar. Alfred Flatow won the parallel bars, while Carl Schuhmann , who was also successful in wrestling, won the horse jumping competition.

    Three Olympic champions came from other countries: the Swiss Louis Zutter won on the pommel horse , the Greek Ioannis Mitropoulos on the rings , his compatriot Nikolaos Andriakopoulos on rope climbing.


    On April 12th, a Sunday morning, King George I held a banquet for the officials and athletes. During his dinner speech, he made it clear that, in his opinion, the Olympic Games should always be held in Athens from now on. Many participants supported the king's cause. Most of the American participants confirmed this by signing a letter to the Crown Prince. Pierre de Coubertin, on the other hand, vehemently rejected this idea because he saw international rotation as the cornerstone of the modern Olympic movement. For this reason, the next games took place in Paris , as the IOC had already decided in 1894, even if this event should hardly be considered because of the parallel world exhibition.

    See also


    • Volker Kluge : Summer Olympic Games. The Chronicle I. Athens 1896 - Berlin 1936. Sportverlag Berlin, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-328-00715-6 .
    • Sp. P. Lambros, NG Politis, Pierre de Coubertin, Timoleon J. Philemon, Charalambos Anninos: The Olympic Games. 776 BC Chr. – 1896 AD Carl Beck / H. Greveland / F. Volckmar, Athens / London / Leipzig 1896/1897 (official report, German and English, online , PDF, 10.35 MB, created in 1998 by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles ).
    • Karl Lennartz (Ed.): The Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 - Explanations for the reprint of the official report. AGON, Kassel 1996.
    • Karl Lennartz, Walter Teutenberg (ed.): The German Olympic team from 1896 . Kasseler Sportverlag, Kassel 1992, ISBN 3-928562-14-2 ( Olympic series , vol. 3).
    • Michael Llewellyn Smith: Olympics in Athens 1896 - The Invention of the Modern Olympic Games. Profile Books, London 2004, ISBN 1-86197-342-X .

    Web links

    Commons : 1896 Summer Olympics  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

    Individual evidence

    1. a b IOC page on the 1896 Summer Olympics , accessed on July 27, 2021
    2. ^ Arnd Krüger : 'Nothing Succeeds like Success'. The Context of the 1894 Athletic Congress and the Foundation of the IOC. Stadion 29 (2003), pp. 47-64.
    3. a b Sp. P. Lambros, NG Politis, Pierre de Coubertin, Timoleon J. Philemon, Charalambos Anninos: The Olympic Games. 776 BC Chr. – 1896 AD Carl Beck / H. Greveland / F. Volckmar, Athens / London / Leipzig 1896/1897 (official report, German and English, online , PDF, 10.35 MB, created in 1998 by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles ). Part 2, p. 91.
    4. Sp. P. Lambros, NG Politis, Pierre de Coubertin, Timoleon J. Philemon, Charalambos Anninos: The Olympic Games. 776 BC Chr. – 1896 AD Carl Beck / H. Greveland / F. Volckmar, Athens / London / Leipzig 1896/1897 (official report, German and English, online , PDF, 10.35 MB, created in 1998 by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles ). Part 2, p. 94.