for the founders of the Modern Olympic Games
January 8, 2009
What did Baron Pierre de Coubertin know?
Re: The Origins of the modern Olympic Games (re-published from PE&Sport Today - August 2008)
Baron Pierre de Coubertin was born on the 1st of January 1863.
That often misused December 1890 quote is based on what the Baron had seen in the United Kingdom and what he had not seen in Greece.
The first modern international Olympic Games had already taken place in Athens in 1859 and international Olympic Games had also been hosted in the Panathenian stadium in 1870 and 1875. That same stadium has hosted events for modern Olympic Games five times: 1870, 1875, 1896, 1906 and 2004.
The Olympian Class sports held in the 1850s under the tutelage of Dr William Penny Brookes did not resemble Olympic Games. Only when Dr Brookes started to adopt events from the programme of the Athens Olympic Games did the Much Wenlock Olympian Games begin to look anything like an Olympic Games and notably at the national 1866 Games held at Crystal Palace in London (without a stadium).
But credit where credit is due. Dr William Penny Brookes did inspire the Baron to go on to form the International Olympic Committee. So yes, he is by default a founder of the Modern Olympic Movement who preceded the Baron. But don't ignore the Greek philanthropist, Evangelis Zappas, who paid for the refurbishment of the ancient Panathenian stadium and who sponsored the 1859, 1870, 1875 Olympic Games as well as contributing (though his legacy) to the Athens 1896 Olympic Games. The Athens 1896 Olympic Games would probably have not happened without the already well-used (in ancient and modern times) Panathenian stadium.
The Baron was wrong in his poorly considered quote. A Greek did revive the ancient Olympic Games in modern times and he did it in style. Evangelis Zappas sponsored the first modern international Olympic Games attended by athletes from Greece and the Ottoman Empire (it only takes two partipant countries to make an event international). Evangelis Zappas sponsored the first modern international Olympic Games to be hosted in a stadium.
Dr Brookes did contribute a prize for one of the events at the 1859 Olympic Games. He also honoured the winner of that prize by making him the first honorary member of the Wenlock Olympian Society. Furthermore, and coincidentally, the prizewinner, Petros Velissariou of Smyrna, was a citizen of the Ottoman Empire and not of Greece.
Recommended reading by Zappas.org: