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Pierre de Coubertin

Birth of a vocation

Pierre Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, was born in Paris in 1863. His family originated in Normandy where he spent many of his summers in the family Château de Mirville, near Le Havre.

He refused the military career planned for him by his family, as well as renouncing a promising political career. By the age of 24 he had already decided the aim of his life: he would help bring back the noble spirit of France by reforming its old-fashioned and unimaginative education system.

Coubertin, whose father was an artist and mother a musician, was raised in cultivated and aristocratic surroundings. He had always been deeply interested in questions of education. For him, education was the key to the future of society, and he sought the means to make France rise once more after its defeat in the war in 1870.

Sport for moral energy

Coubertin was a very active sportsman and practiced the sports of boxing, fencing, horse-riding and rowing. He was convinced that sport was the springboard for moral energy and he defended his idea with rare tenacity.

It was this conviction that led him to announce at the age of 31 that he wanted to revive the Olympic Games.

He made this announcement in a meeting at the Union of French Societies of Athletic Sports (USFSA), for which he was Secretary General. No one really believed him and his statement was greeted with little enthusiasm.

Revival of the Games

Coubertin, however, was not discouraged and on 23 June, 1894 he founded the International Olympic Committee in a ceremony held at the University of Sorbonne in Paris. Demetrius Vikelas from Greece became the first president of the IOC.

Two years later, in 1896, the first Olympic Games of the modern era were held in Athens. On that occasion Coubertin was elected the second president of the IOC and he remained president until 1925. Due to the 1st World War, Coubertin requested permission to establish the headquarters of the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, which was a neutral country.

On 10 April, 1915 the acts ensuring the establishment of the international administrative centre and archives of the modern Olympic movement were signed in the Town Hall of Lausanne.

In 1922, the IOC headquarters and the Museum collections were moved to the Villa Mon Repos in Lausanne and stayed there for the next 46 years.

Defining Olympism

Pierre de Coubertin also wanted to be seen as a pedagogue. All of his projects, including the Games, had the same aim in mind: to make men.

His definition of Olympism had four principles that were far from a simple sports competition:

To be a religion i.e. to "adhere to an ideal of a higher life, to strive for perfection"; to represent an elite "whose origins are completely egalitarian" and at the same time "chivalry" with its moral qualities; to create a truce "a four-yearly festival of the springtime of mankind"; and to glorify beauty by the "involvement of the philosophic arts in the Games".

It is clear that the concept of the Olympic Games is far from a simple sports competition.

The unfinished symphony

Pierre de Coubertin withdrew from the IOC and the Olympic Movement in 1925 to devote himself to his pedagogical work, which he termed his "unfinished symphony".

At the age of 69, in 1931, he published his "Olympic Memoirs" in which he emphasized the intellectual and philosophical nature of his enterprise and his wish to "place the role of the IOC, right from the start, very much above that of a simple sports association".

Pierre de Coubertin suddenly died of a heart attack on 2 September, 1937, in a park in Geneva, and thus his "symphony" remained unfinished.

The city of Lausanne had decided to award him honorary citizenship of the city, but he died just prior to the ceremony.

In accordance with Pierre de Coubertin's last wishes, he was buried in Lausanne and his heart was placed inside a stele erected to his memory at Olympia.

(Credit: IOC. Click here for further information.)

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