Incredible as it may seem, Bulgaria was among the first proud nations to participate in the most momentous event in the history of world sports, i.e. the revival of the Olympic Games back in 1896. The great efforts, energy and time invested in the revival process by the person revered by all of Europe today, who is rightfully considered one the outstanding world humanists of modern times, were met with indifference by Old Europe, which was not interested, to say the least, in reviving the Olympic Games. There was a huge risk for the First Olympic Games to become a failure. Those circumstances in particular show the vital role of the solidarity expressed by the young Bulgarian state in responding with enthusiasm to the invitation for participation sent by the Organising Committee of the First Olympics. This act of solidarity and friendship is still appreciated today by the IOC as an invaluable moral support and that is the reason why Bulgaria is entered in the golden pages of the International Olympic movement history.
Our government reviewed the issue during a session held on 15 March 1986. The minister of Education, Konstantin Velichkov, presented a report recorded in Ministerial meeting minutes № 3046. The decision reads:
“An approval is granted for sending five members of the Junak Athletic Club to Greece in order to present this first Bulgarian athletic association at the millennium celebration of the first Olympic Games and the revived Olympic games. For this purpose, the appointed people shall receive 20 gold coins per diem and travel allowance to reimburse expenses as per submitted receipts for second-class tickets.”
As a matter of fact, this excerpt is from the first ever state document discovered to-date that shows a government sending official representatives to the First Olympic Games. This is a proof of the Bulgarian state’s unquestionable support and willingness to cooperate with the Olympic movement and the IOC.
The Bulgarian delegation was formed in compliance with the requirements set in the invitation, i.e. it included members from the First athletic association, named Junak, which by that time had been functioning for only a year. Leader of the delegation was Todor Yonchev who is deservingly named The Patriarch of bodily culture in Bulgaria; members of the delegation were Charles Champaud, the most renowned Swiss teacher of gymnastics in Bulgaria who taught the first generation of gymnastics activists in the country; Panayot Belev, a teacher in Gabrovo and Sofia, a fiery personality full of enthusiasm, author of many books and active participant in the training of sports specialists. The other two participants – Dimiter Iliev and Ivan Penchov – were young gymnasts who spent many years supporting the Junak organisation.
No information has been discovered as to how and when the delegation travelled to Athens. It is known that it arrived on the third day of the Games. Our delegation was met very cordially by Colonel Fokianos, Deputy Chair of the Organising Committee.
Charles Champaud was the only one who registered as a participant in the competitions.In the official protocols of the Games he spelt his name Charles Champoff, which explicitly states his personal conviction and willingness to participate as a Bulgarian representative from the Junak Athletic Club.
Champaud took part in the individual gymnastics competitions – vault, pommel horse and parallel bars. This information cannot be confirmed with original protocols as they have not survived; however, details about the competition can be found in the official report prepared by Mr. Philemon, in which the fact of the Bulgarian delegation’s arrival is also mentioned. Champaud took fifth place in vault.
On the day following the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games the foreign delegations were invited to the royal palace for breakfast, which the Bulgarian delegation also attended represented by its leader, Todor Yonchev.
Albeit slightly forgotten, this period of Bulgaria’s sports history reveals some of the most noble traits of Bulgarian sports – our support and enthusiasm for the true spirit of sports and Olympism where the other Olympic principle is “It’s not the winning, but the participation, that matter.”