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Pierre de Frédy de Coubertin, baron de Coubertin

Birthplace: 20, rue Oudinot, Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Death: September 02, 1937 (74)
Parc de la Grange, Geneva, Genève, Canton of Geneva, Switzerland (Crise cardiaque (cardiac arrest))
Place of Burial: Lausanne, Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland
Immediate Family:

Son of Charles de Frédy, baron de Coubertin and Agathe Marie Marcelle Gigault de Crisenoy
Husband of Maria Christa Anna Fredy de Coubertin
Father of Jacques de Frédy de Coubertin and Renée de Frédy de Coubertin
Brother of Albert de Frédy de Coubertin; Paul de Frédy de Coubertin and Marie de Frédy de Coubertin

Occupation: founder of the modern Olympic Games.
Managed by: George J. Homs
Last Updated:

About Pierre de Coubertin

Early life

  • Pierre de Frédy was born in Paris on 1 January 1863 into an established aristocratic family.[1] He was the fourth child of Baron Charles Louis Frédy, Baron de Coubertin and Marie–Marcelle Gigault de Crisenoy.[2] Family tradition held that the Frédy name had first arrived in France in the early 15th century, and the first recorded title of nobility granted to the family was given by Louis XI to an ancestor, also named Pierre de Frédy, in 1477. But other branches of his family tree delved even further into French history, and the annals of both sides of his family included nobles of various stations, military leaders, and associates of kings and princes of France.[3]
  • His father Charles was a staunch royalist and accomplished artist whose paintings were displayed and given prizes at the Parisian salon, at least in those years when he was not absent in protest of the rise to power of Louis Napoleon. His paintings often centered around themes related to the Roman Catholic Church, classicism, and nobility, which reflected those things he thought most important.[4] In a later semi-fictional autobiographical piece called Le Roman d'un rallié, Coubertin describes his relationship with both his mother and his father as having been somewhat strained during his childhood and adolescence. His memoirs elaborated further, describing as a pivotal moment his disappointment upon meeting Henri, Count of Chambord, who the elder Coubertin believed to be the rightful king.[5]
  • Coubertin grew up in a time of profound change in the country France; as a young man he would have seen and heard news of France's defeat during the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and the establishment of the French Third Republic, and would later marry in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair.[6] But while these events proved the setting to his childhood, his school experiences were just as formative. In October 1874, his parents enrolled him in a new Jesuit school called Externat de la rue de Vienne, which was still under construction for his first five years there. While many of the school's attendees were day students, Coubertin boarded at the school under the supervision of a Jesuit priest, which his parents hoped would instill him with a strong moral and religious education.[7] There, he was among the top three students in his class, and was an officer of the school's elite academy made up of its best and brightest. This suggests that despite his rebelliousness at home, Coubertin adapted well to the strict rigors of a Jesuit education.[8]
  • As an aristocrat, Coubertin had a number of career paths from which to choose, including potentially prominent roles in the military or politics. But he chose instead to pursue a career as an intellectual, studying and later writing on a broad range of topics, including education, history, literature, and sociology.[1]

Reviving the Olympic Games

  • Some historians describe Coubertin as the instigator of the modern Olympic movement, a man whose vision and political skill led to the revival of the Olympic Games which had been practiced in antiquity.[1] The ancient Olympic Games were held every four years in the Greek city of Olympia, in the Kingdom of Elis, from 776 BCE through either 261 or 393 AD. While there were a number of other ancient games celebrated in Greece during this time period, including the Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian Games, Coubertin idealized the Olympic Games as the ultimate ancient athletic competition.[12]
  • Thomas Arnold, the Head Master of Rugby School, was an important influence on Coubertin's thoughts about education, but his meetings with Dr. William Penny Brookes also influenced his thinking about athletic competition to some extent. A trained physician, Brookes believed that the best way to prevent illness was through physical exercise. In 1850, he had initiated a local athletic competition that he referred to as "Meetings of the Olympian Class"[14] at the Gaskell recreation ground at Much Wenlock, Shropshire.[15] Along with the Liverpool Athletic Club, who began holding their own Olympic Festival in the 1860s, Brookes created a National Olympian Association which aimed to encourage such local competition in cities across Britain. These efforts were largely ignored by the British sporting establishment. Brookes also maintained communication with the government and sporting advocates in Greece, seeking a revivial of the Olympic Games internationally under the auspices of the Greek government.[16] There, the philanthropist brothers Evangelos and Konstantinos Zappas had used their wealth to fund Olympics within Greece, and paid for the restoration of the Panathinaiko Stadium that was later used during the 1896 Summer Olympics.[17] The efforts of Brookes to encourage the internationalization of these games came to naught.[16] However, Dr Brookes did organize a national Olympic Games in London, at Crystal Palace, in 1866 and this was the first Olympics to resemble an Olympic Games to be held outside of Greece.[18] But while others had created Olympic contests within their countries, and broached the idea of international competition, it was Coubertin whose work would lead to the establishment of the International Olympic Committee and the organization of the first modern Olympic Games.[17]
  • In 1888, Coubertin founded the Comité pour la Propagation des Exercises Physiques more well known as the Comité Jules Simon. Coubertin's earliest reference to the modern notion of Olympic Games criticises the idea.[19] The idea for reviving the Olympic Games as an international competition came to Coubertin in 1889, apparently independently of Brookes, and he spent the following five years organizing an international meeting of athletes and sports enthusiasts that might make it happen.[12] Dr Brookes had organised a national Olympic Games that was held at Crystal Palace in London in 1866.[18] In response to a newspaper appeal, Brookes wrote to Coubertin in 1890, and the two began an exchange of letters on education and sport. That October, Brookes hosted the Frenchman at a special festival held in his honor at Much Wenlock. Although he was too old to attend the 1894 Congress, Brookes would continue to support Coubertin's efforts, most importantly by using his connections with the Greek government to seek its support in the endeavor. While Brookes' contribution to the revival of the Olympic Games was recognized in Britain at the time, Coubertin in his later writings largely neglected to mention the role the Englishman played in their development.[20] He did mention the roles of Evangelis Zappas and his cousin Konstantinos Zappas, but drew a distinction between their founding of athletic Olympics and his own role in the creation of an international contest.[17] However, Coubertin together with A. Mercatis, a close friend of Konstantinos, encouraged the Greek government to utilise part of Konstantinos' legacy to fund the 1896 Athens Olympic Games separately and in addition to the legacy of Evangelis Zappas that Konstantinos had been executor of.[21][22][23] Moreover, George Averoff was invited by the Greek government to fund the second refurbishment of the Panathinaiko Stadium that had already been fully funded by Evangelis Zappas forty years earlier.[24]
  • Coubertin's advocacy for the Games centered on a number of ideals about sport. He believed that the early ancient Olympics encouraged competition among amateur rather than professional athletes, and saw value in that. The ancient practice of a sacred truce in association with the Games might have modern implications, giving the Olympics a role in promoting peace. This role was reinforced in Coubertin's mind by the tendency of athletic competition to promote understanding across cultures, thereby lessening the dangers of war. In addition, he saw the Games as important in advocating his philosophical ideal for athletic competition: that the competition itself, the struggle to overcome one's opponent, was more important than winning.[25] Coubertin expressed this ideal thus:
  • "The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
  • As Coubertin prepared for his Congress, he continued to develop a philosophy of the Olympic Games. While he certainly intended the Games to be a forum for competition between amateur athletes, his conception of amateurism was complex. By 1894, the year the Congress was held, he publicly criticized the type of amateur competition embodied in English rowing contests, arguing that its specific exclusion of working-class athletes was wrong. While he believed that athletes should not be paid to be such, he did think that compensation was in order for the time when athletes were competing and would otherwise have been earning money. Following the establishment of a definition for an amateur athlete at the 1894 Congress, he would continue to argue that this definition should be amended as necessary, and as late as 1909 would argue that the Olympic movement should develop its definition of amateurism gradually.[26]
  • Along with the development of an Olympic philosophy, Coubertin invested time in the creation and development of a national association to coordinate athletics in France, the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA). In 1889, French athletics associations had grouped together for the first time and Coubertin founded a monthly magazine La Revue Athletique, the first French periodical devoted exclusively to athletics[27] and modelled on The Athlete, an English journal established around 1862.[28] Formed by seven sporting societies with approximately 800 members, by 1892 the association had expanded to 62 societies with 7,000 members.[29]
  • That November, at the annual meeting of the USFSA, Coubertin first publicly suggested the idea of reviving the Olympics. His speech met general applause, but little commitment to the Olympic ideal he was advocating for, perhaps because sporting associations and their members tended to focus on their own area of expertise and had little identity as sportspeople in a general sense. This disappointing result was prelude to a number of challenges he would face in organizing his international conference. In order to develop support for the conference, he began to play down its role in reviving Olympic Games and instead promoted it as a conference on amateurism in sport which, he thought, was slowly being eroded by betting and sponsorships. This led to later suggestions that participants were convinced to attend under false pretenses. Little interest was expressed by those he spoke to during trips to the United States in 1893 and London in 1894, and an attempt to involve the Germans angered French gymnasts who did not want the Germans invited at all. Despite these challenges, the USFSA continued its planning for the games, adopting in its first program for the meeting eight articles to address, only one of which had to do with the Olympics. A later program would give the Olympics a much more prominent role in the meeting.[30]
  • The congress was held on 23 June 1894 at the Sorbonne in Paris. Once there, participants divided the congress into two commissions, one on amateurism and the other on reviving the Olympics. A Greek participant, Demetrius Vikelas, was appointed to head the commission on the Olympics, and would later become the first President of the International Olympic Committee. Along with Coubertin, C. Herbert of Britain's Amateur Athletic Association and W.M. Sloane of the United States helped lead the efforts of the commission. In its report, the commission proposed that Olympic Games be held every four years and that the program for the Games be one of modern rather than ancient sports. They also set the date and location for the first modern Olympic Games, the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, and the second, the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris. Coubertin had originally opposed the choice of Greece, as he had concerns about the ability of a weakened Greek state to host the competition, but was convinced by Vikelas to support the idea. The commission's proposals were accepted unanimously by the congress, and the modern Olympic movement was officially born. The proposals of the other commission, on amateurism, were more contentious, but this commission also set important precedents for the Olympic Games, specifically the use of heats to narrow participants and the banning of prize money in most contests.[31]
  • Following the Congress, the institutions created there began to be formalized into the International Olympic Committee (IOC), with Demetrius Vikelas as its first President. The work of the IOC increasingly focused on the planning the 1896 Athens Games, and de Coubertin played a background role as Greek authorities took the lead in logistical organization of the Games in Greece itself, offering technical advice such as a sketch of a design of a velodrome to be used in cycling competitions. He also took the lead in planning the program of events, although to his disappointment neither polo, football, or boxing were included in 1896.[32] The Greek organising committee had been informed that four foreign football teams were to participate however not one foreign football team showed up and despite Greek preparations for a football tournament it was cancelled during the Games.[33]
  • The Greek authorities were frustrated that he could not provide an exact estimate of the number of attendees more than a year in advance. In France, Coubertin's efforts to elicit interest in the Games among athletes and the press met difficulty, largely because the participation of German athletes angered French nationalists who begrudged Germany their victory in the Franco-Prussian War. Germany also threatened not to participate after rumors spread that Coubertin had sworn to keep Germany out, but following a letter to the Kaiser denying the accusation, the German National Olympic Committee decided to attend. Coubertin himself was frustrated by the Greeks, who increasingly ignored him in their planning and who wanted to continue to hold the Games in Athens every four years, against de Coubertin's wishes. The conflict was resolved after he suggested to the King of Greece that he hold pan-Hellenic games in between Olympiads, an idea which the King accepted, although Coubertin would receive some angry correspondence even after the compromise was reached and the King did not mention him at all during the banquet held in honor of foreign athletes during the 1896 Games.[34]
  • Coubertin took over the IOC presidency when Demetrius Vikelas stepped down after the Olympics in his own country. Despite the initial success, the Olympic Movement faced hard times, as the 1900 (in De Coubertin's own Paris) and 1904 Games were both swallowed by World's Fairs, and received little attention. The Paris Games were not organised by Coubertin or the IOC nor were they called Olympics at that time. The St. Louis Games was hardly internationalized and was an embarrassment.[35]
  • The 1906 Summer Olympics revived the momentum, and the Olympic Games grew to become the world's most important sports event. Coubertin created the modern pentathlon for the 1912 Olympics, and subsequently stepped down from his IOC presidency after the 1924 Olympics in Paris, which proved much more successful than the first attempt in that city in 1900. He was succeeded as president, in 1925, by Belgian Henri de Baillet-Latour.
  • Coubertin remained Honorary President of the IOC until he died in 1937 in Geneva, Switzerland. He was buried in Lausanne (the seat of the IOC), although, in accordance with his will, his heart was buried separately in a monument near the ruins of ancient Olympia. Personal Olympic success
  • Coubertin won the gold medal for literature at the 1912 Summer Olympics for his poem Ode to Sport. read more...

Pierre de Fredy de Coubertin, baron de Coubertin, né le 1er janvier 1863 à Paris et mort le 2 septembre 1937 à Genève1, est un historien et pédagogue français qui ressuscita les Jeux olympiques à l'ère moderne.


Né à Paris au 20 de la rue Oudinot2 dans une famille aristocratique. Ses parents sont Charles-Louis de Fredy de Coubertin et Marie-Marcelle Gigault de Crisenoy, héritière du château de Mirville (Seine-Maritime) en Normandie où Pierre passe son enfance. Son grand-père est Bonaventure Julien de Fredy, baron de Coubertin (1788-1871), haut fonctionnaire de Napoléon Ier à Brême et Oldenbourg en Allemagne du Nord, haut officier militaire dans l'armée de Louis XVIII, premier baron de Coubertin en 1821 et ensuite maire de Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse jusqu'à sa mort en 1871.

Pierre écarte rapidement les carrières militaire et politique. « Colonialiste fanatique » comme Jules Ferry, selon ses propres mots, il accorde une grande place à l’honneur patriotique et au nationalisme. Aristocrate, il se rallie en 1887 à la République et se met à dos toute sa famille royaliste. Il se consacre à l'amélioration du système éducatif français en s'inspirant des exemples britannique et américain, particulièrement des travaux du Britannique Thomas Arnold concernant le sport scolaire. Dès 1883, il découvre en effet l'Angleterre et pendant trois ans observe le plan social et moral de formation de la jeunesse dans les établissements scolaires, plan qu'il considère être une des causes expliquant la puissance britannique. De retour en France, il veut appliquer ce modèle et débute sa campagne de promotion de sport scolaire en 1887 en signant livres et articles mais les professeurs et parents d'élèves ne le suivent pas. Aussi, pour rendre le sport populaire, il pense qu'il faut l'internationaliser.

Sur l'ensemble de sa vie, Coubertin laisse plus de 60 000 pages4. Il organise des conférences, crée des comités de soutien au sport et sollicite l'aide de toutes les bonnes volontés, l'abbé Didon au premier chef. Les deux hommes se rencontrent pour la première fois le 2 janvier 1891. L'olympisme

L'idée de restaurer les jeux Olympiques a connu plusieurs tentatives avant lui, comme en témoigne l'ouvrage « la Renaissance physique » du pédagogue Paschal Grousset en 1888.

Suite à son appel du 25 novembre 1892 dans l'amphithéâtre de la Sorbonne « cette œuvre grandiose et bienfaisante : le rétablissement des Jeux olympiques », il organise en 1894 le premier Congrès olympique de 1894 dans ce même amphithéâtre.

En 1896, les premiers Jeux olympiques rénovés ont symboliquement lieu à Athènes, et la fréquence quadriennale est établie.

Dès 1908, Pierre de Coubertin séjourne à Lausanne où il élit domicile en 1915. Sur son instigation et en raison de la Première Guerre mondiale, les quartiers généraux du CIO sont transférés dans la capitale vaudoise (villa Mon-Repos), en terrain neutre.

Président du CIO depuis 1896, Coubertin doit faire face aux premiers scandales lors des Jeux olympiques d'été de 1908 à Londres où les hôtes veulent que les jurys soient exclusivement composés d'Anglais. Le 24 juillet 1908, il prononce son discours sur les « Trustees » de l'Idée Olympique dans lequel il explique que c'est la cooptation qui garantit l'indépendance du CIO(il reprend notamment dans cette allocution la maxime de l’évêque anglican de Pennsylvanie « L’important dans ces Olympiades, c’est moins d’y gagner que d’y prendre part »)6. Il s'éloigne du CIO en démissionnant de son poste en 1925. C'est aigri qu'il constate que ses successeurs ne le mettent pas au courant de ce qui se passe, alors que les Jeux sont son œuvre. Il est néanmoins lauréat du prix Guy-Wildenstein de l'Académie des sports en 1935.

Ruiné, avec un enfant handicapé, il s'implique dans l'organisation des Jeux de 1936 de Berlin, qui avaient été prévus avant l'arrivée au pouvoir d'Hitler. Le baron de Coubertin est malgré tout amer devant la récupération politique trop omniprésente. Il meurt à Genève l'année suivante, victime d'une crise cardiaque. Il est enterré à Lausanne mais son cœur est inhumé séparément dans un monument près du sanctuaire d’Olympie.

Pierre de Coubertin a été intronisé à L'IRB Hall of Fame, dès sa création. read more

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Pierre de Coubertin's Timeline

July 1, 1863
20, rue Oudinot, Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
September 2, 1937
Age 74
Parc de la Grange, Geneva, Genève, Canton of Geneva, Switzerland
Cimetière le Bois de Vaux (his heart is buried at Olympia, Greece), Lausanne, Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland