3. The Olympics

Faster, higher, stronger.

Welcome back to The Land of Desire, a French history podcast dedicated to exploring all the weird adventures, mysteries and surprising backstories behind French cultural icons. I originally intended to follow up my episode on the Siege of Paris with the beginning of a series on the Commune. Instead, I found myself glued to my TV screen, obsessed with the Olympics the way I always am every few years, and I remembered that the whole spectacle was started by an oddball Frenchman with a dream in his heart. The earliest modern Olympics were lovable slow-motion disasters – let’s chuckle together, and dream of an Olympiad without terrible Chevy commercials or the sound of Bob Costas.

Episode 3: The Olympics

“The King of Macedonia, it is said, was compelled to prove himself of pure Hellenic blood before he was allowed to compete at Olympia. The world is too big now for that sort of thing. ” – George Horton, “Revival of Olympian Games”, The North American Review, March 1896

1896 Athens Olympiad

Ticket to the inaugural 1896 Olympic Games

King George I congratulating Spyridon Louis

Preparing for the 100 meter sprint at the 1896 inaugural Olympic games

Spyridon Louis

1900 Paris Olympiad

Ticket to the 1900 Olympic Games and Exposition Universelle


1900 Exposition Universelle - Paris

Margaret Abbott unsuspectingly becoming an Olympic champion

1924 Paris Olympiad

Ticket to the 1924 Olympic Games

The original Olympic Village at the 1924 Olympics

Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin at the 1924 Olympic Games

Further Reading:

I haven’t had a chance to pick it up as it only came out a few weeks ago, but I’m excited to read David Goldblatt’s The Games: A Global History of the Olympics. Read an interview with the author in National Geographic.

World War I, French athletic associations and the 1924 Olympic Games: The Lost Generation and Olympian Man (David Bevan, Dalhousie French Studies, 1984)

Too distracted by the Olympics for heavy reading? Here’s a listicle for you.

What’s next for Katie Ledecky? Maybe trying to break this swimming record set at the 1924 Olympics.

Here’s something which is NOT required reading: the English edition of Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s tome on France in the Third Republic. An excerpt from an incredible contemporary review in the Political Science Quarterly that I couldn’t keep to myself:

The book is brilliantly written and abominably translated. The only praise to be given to the translator is that he (or she) has been modest enough to withhold his (or her) name from the public. But when will authors and publishers understand that a good translator must possess four qualifications – first a knowledge of the language to be translated from; second, a knowledge of the language to be translated into; third, literary ability; fourth, knowledge of the subject dealt with in the book to be translated? M. de Coubertin’s translator possesses all the above qualifications save four.


Pierre de Coubertin and the Introduction of Organised Sport in France (Eugen Weber, Journal of Contemporary History, 1970)

Gymnastics and Sports in Fin-de-Siècle France: Opium of the Classes? (Eugen Weber, The American Historical Review, February 1971)

Degeneration, Neurasthenia and the Culture of Sport in Belle Epoque France (Robert A. Nye, Journal of Contemporary History, January 1982)

Revival of Olympian Games (George Horton, The North American Review, March 1896)

The Modern Olympic Games and Their Model in Antiquity (Louis Callebat, International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Spring 1998)

Douglas Fairbanks and the Birth of Hollywood’s Love Affair with the Olympics (Rusty Wilson, International Symposium for Olympic Research, LA 84 Foundation, 2006)

What Price Victory? The World of International Sports and Politics (Andrew Strenk, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, September 1979)

Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement (John E. Findling & Kimberly D. Pelle, 2004)

Pierre de Coubertin’s Ideology of Olympism from the Perspective of the History of Ideas (Sigmund Loland, International Symposium for Olympic Research, Centre for Olympic Studies, 1994)

  • Hey! Since the OG were held here I guess I listened to some of those stories on TV/internet one million times but happily I think that it was never so enjoyable as this! Mr. Coubertin did a great job but I’ll never be able to forgive him for not bringing back the hoplitodromos… It’d be so glorious! Anyway, the idea of the podcast is great (really, it was about time to more podcasts on the French) and I just loved the first four episodes! I hope you keep it up. 😛

    • Hi Lucas,

      Thanks so much! I’m very glad to hear that you enjoyed the episode. I felt the same way – I got the whole idea for The Land of Desire because I was interested in listening to a French history podcast and was shocked to see there weren’t really any to speak of.

      – Diana

  • Bonjour Diana, I just discovered your podcast after taking up a recommendation from another podcaster. I wanted to say I find your work very entertaining and informative. I especially like your well designed website. I love learning through a variety of media, so your extra notes, links, pictures, etc makes the whole experience of the podcast so rewarding. I especially liked this episode because it reminded me of last year and how I too often get glued to the couch and TV during the olympics. Thanks for giving us some more insight into the little known history of this spectical. Something I’m sure NBC with all its sportscasters and loads of cash was never going to do. :). I’m excited you’re on Patreon as well, so I just signed up as a member. I hope that helps you get that bit closer to your next goal. Bonne chance! Holly

    • Hi Holly,

      My deepest apologies for the delayed response – somehow your comment slipped through the cracks last month! I wanted to say THANK YOU for your support (written and financial), I really do appreciate it. I spend a lot of time on the website and rarely receive feedback about it, so that comment was particularly appreciated. <3 Thank you again for listening, and I hope you enjoy this week's episode!


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