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An Olympic score to settle: Who revived the modern games?

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Most true sports fans know that the Olympics were brought back to life in Athens in 1896 by the enthusiastic young Frenchman Pierre Fredy, better known as the Baron de Coubertin.

In the 110 years since the Parisian baron founded the International Olympic Committee, he has enjoyed the unchallenged title of Olympiad revivalist.

But as the 2004 Games return to their ancient birthplace in Athens this summer, the contributions of two other men - an Albanian-born Greek and a British doctor - have surfaced with the help of revisionist historians keen to explode the myth that the Olympic revival was exclusively the baron's brainchild.

Tuesday the French capital, along with Moscow, Madrid, New York, and London, were selected as finalists to host the 2012 Games. The controversy over the Olympics' origin holds serious implications for the French bid, as their argument leans heavily on the baron's legacy. It also offers a reminder of the powerful current of nationalism that surges beneath the movement's surface values of global peace and fraternity.

As the English writer George Orwell once said: "Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules, and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence; In other words, it is war minus the shooting."

Indeed, says historian Konstantinos Georgiadis, the French baron was actually a "latecomer" to the idea of reviving the ancient Greek spectacle. Long before the Frenchman was born, both Evangelis Zappas in Greece and William Penny Brookes in Britain were producing their own version of the games. "Until recently everything we'd read about the history of the Olympics was written by de Coubertin himself and in most of the 12,000 pages he identified himself as the sole architect," says Mr. Georgiadis.

Keen classicists
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