Foreword to the Olympic Games

[I]Let us come to these restored Olympic Games celebrated for the first time in Athens (they were abolished by Theodosius in Olympia in 394) and which from now on will take place every four years in one of the capitals of Europe.

When the idea was first published, I admit that I blamed it with all my strength. This new International, the international of sports, was displeasing me. I saw in it the profanation of a beautiful name. I also saw in it an anachronism; Greek Olympiads were possible when there was a Greece. There is no, or at least there is no longer a Europe: how could we see European Olympiads? Finally, this blending of peoples risked, in my view, to lead not to an intelligent or reasonable ranking of modern nations, but to the worst excesses of cosmopolitanism.

Hence I must ask you, to whom go all the benefits of cosmopolitanism? To that least cosmopolitan of peoples, to the most nationalistic of races. I say to the Anglo-Saxon. The era that will be opened in Athens will only bring a new element of vitality and prosperity to our eternal enemies. The vocabulary of sport will contribute to the propagation of a language of which the entire planet is already infested.

Therefore, was I reasoning, I believe, without verisimilitude; I received on that the sharp remonstrances of Mr. Pierre de Coubertin, the defender of the enterprise. They crossed my mind without leaving an imprint. Nevertheless, the thinking I did during two years (June 1894-March 1896) did not cease to bring nuance to this first impression. The choice of Athens encouraged more benevolence. It seemed that under the Acropolis, certain barbarous acts could not take place, and that the following athletic representations would keep the influence of this beginning. Thus, when I prepared my luggage, my best wishes were having the better of me. Since I was going to judge the matter with my own eyes, why not give it the benefit of the doubt?

My experience led to my conversion.

My first reasons were not without foundation, but they were incomplete. I had neglected two important points.

Regarding cosmopolitanism, I did not see that there would be nothing to fear from that side, for the reason that when several distinct races are put in the presence of one another, forced to interact with one another, far from uniting by sympathy, they loathe and fight one another the more they think they know one another. Paul Bourget had made this observation before me; but I will give examples.

As for the Anglo-Saxon domination, I had forgotten to note that it is not so strong because it proceeded with a knowing slow pace, a mystery, a deeply kept secret: the progress was not, as with that of the Prussians, strikingly abrupt. Even today, when the Anglo-Saxons dominate everywhere, we do not know enough, we cannot measure what is their real strength. It is built in part on our lack of knowledge. These terrible invaders benefit, in a large part, from our not knowing exactly who they are, nor what they do, nor what they dream of doing. The modern Olympiad will have the advantage of showing the Latin peoples the number, the power, the influence, the insolent pretention, the ridiculous aspect of these eager pretenders to the empire of the world. We would be the last of peoples if we were afraid of being afraid. By seeing to the naked eye this great peril, we will at least have a chance to not succumb to it.

These two orders of thought which I have noted were suggested to me, I must say this anew, by my days spent at the Stadium. I have told you how the shadow of an advantage given to the German gymnasts at the expense of the Greeks led the other day to a genuine tempest. On the other hand, the race of Marathon, where the first seven racers were Greek (the eighth was French) has led, yesteday, in all the people of Cecrops, to a drunken joy, an enthusiasm I could not describe. Nénikikamen! We have vanquished! When the white-and-blue jersey of Mr. Spiros Louis was spotted, all the Attican grasshoppers made heard their dry and piercing song. — Ô nikitos! Ô nikitos! Zitô! (The victor! The victor! May he live!) There was no good Greek who was not crying: Ô marathonomachos! Ô marathonomachos! The national flag was shaking in their hands. Then, the winner having reached the end, how many kisses and embraces by companions, friends, unknown people! They gave him coffee. They threw thousands of gifts at him. They raised money to buy him a few acres of land in his village. A lady of Smyrna offers him a gold chain. I know that kind of people; I have seen them in the arenas of Arles and at the naumachias of Martigues… Note that nothing was more legitimate nor more sensible than the triumph of this fleet-footed Hellene. Mr. Louis was far outpacing his opponents: he crossed, in a short time, the long distance from Athens to Marathon. I do not think of smiling at this great popular joy, nor of being surprised by it; I note simply its very national character. They grow sad if the pole-vaulting Hellene misses the bar or risks being imperfect at the rings; they frown if the German or the American has more skill or more luck. Such sentiments do not hamper justice in any way; they admire what deserves to be admired, though they do it with more or less heart depending on the honour at stake.

In wresting (Pôli), two telling incidents. A Greek and a Dane fight one another: Mr. Jensen of the Rowing-Club of Copenhagen, and Mr. Christopoulos of the Patras Gymnastics Society. The latter, supple, has less muscular strength than his opponent. As for Mr. Jensen, it is just to say that he has nothing of a giant; he is an athlete of average height, so short, in fact, that he appears brief… He looks like a real brute, a brute as knowing and methodical as vigorous. For a quarter of an hour we can admire his biceps, which are enormous, his waist, his inflexible calves, his wrists extended like two bars of metal: and all this array cannot overcome the cunning, the suppleness, the agility of Mr. Christopoulos. The latter even gets the upper hand for a moment. However, the Scandinavian does not touch the ground. They have to separate the adversaries. But all of Greece is smiling. With what heart do they embrace Mr. Christopoulos! The champion of Patras can dream, that night, that he has become the subtle and prudent Ulysses of athletics. At the very least, is that not true? Is it not by resistance that the civilized man is different from the barbarian?

Then they pit a German against an Englishman. In the blink of an eye Mr. Schumann makes Mr. Eliott bite the dust; but then with a very British bad faith, the latter resists, rolls around, tries to wrest himself free, as though he had not touched the ground with both shoulders. The good German is amazed by such audacity. How Athens is enjoying itself. They whistle, they sing. The jury and Prince George have to take it upon themselves to return Mr. Eliott to his club. At that moment the organizers have the bad idea to have Mr. Christopoulos face off against another Greek. Ah, the magnificent tumult. No, no! Oki, Oki, Oki! I greatly examined this national protest. Many others, of a similar order, are happening at all times. Far from extinguishing patriotic passions, all this fake cosmopolitanism of the Stadium only exacerbates them. I am far from complaining about it.

Do not believe for instance that the old peoples have the monopoly of this passion. The most violent, the loudest nationalists in the Stadium, do you know who they are? They are not the Greeks perhaps. They are the people of America. These Yankees, who came in great numbers, seem even more numerous than they are in reality: every time an American victory is announced, the Union flags unfurl in the wind; the hats and berets fly off; screams shake the wooden seats. These brave people profoundly ignore the most precious knowledge of the Greek world, and that is: restraint. Thus how many large smiles on the lips of the Athenians! What laughter on the faces of the Atticans, at all the mistakes of taste from these poor Americans. The Greek newspapers talk with an ironic indulgence of the “exuberant displays of the gay and eccentric Yankees”. These foreigners are making themselves thoroughly insufferable. It is said that Mr. Connolly, winner of the triple jump, has nobly telegraphed his fellow nationals: “The Hellenes have vanquished Europe; me, I have vanquished the entire world.” This victory bulletin has made the rounds of the Athenian cafés.

We can see, the nations are not destroyed. War, too, is not dead. In the old days, the peoples met one another through ambassadors. They were solemn, calm, restrained people, slow and full of prudence. It took all the perfidy and all the genius of a Bismarck to create situations analogous to those which led to the Ems Dispatch. Now the peoples will frequent one another directly, insult one another mouth to mouth and yell to their heart’s content. The steam which brought them together will only make international incidents easier. The Bismarcks to come still have a promising career.[/I]