C is for de Coubertin*

Why is the Olympic ideal so pervasive? The Games themselves have, practically from the beginning, been fraught with controversy: politics, scandals, poor sportsmanship, cost overruns. Every journalist seems to find something to criticize or yawns at the competitions, calling them bloated or lackluster. Every pundit declares that this time, because of all the fighting between countries and cost overruns, the Olympics are really dead. Consider this summation written by John Robert Tunis:

That the Olympics are … productive of keen competition, new records, immense crowds, profitable weeks for the hotel-keepers and shop-owners of the city in which they are held… But that they have succeeded in becoming a beneficial force in the spreading of peace and good will throughout the world… is not so certain. For, as Mr. George Trevor of the New York Sun said recently…: “The history of the Olympic Games since their arrival in 1896 has been marked by sporadic dissension, bickering, heartburning, and one or two old-fashioned rows.”

John Robert Tunis, Harper’s, August 1928.

And that was back in 1928. Still, the Olympics endure.

The reason that this athletic tournament has lasted for over a hundred years is not because of the sporting achievements, not because countries crow over piles of medals, and not even because they embody tremendous entertainment for the viewing public. The Olympic ideal has lasted because of the dude who pulled together all the fractious national egos to reinstate the modern Games in the first place: Pierre de Coubertin.

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