Pierre de Coubertin was a French educator and historian who played a major role in the founding of the International Olympic Committee because of which he is considered the father of the modern Olympic Games. He was born into an established aristocratic family and received a privileged upbringing. Sent to a Jesuit school called Externat de la rue de Vienne, he was deeply influenced by his early education which instilled in him strong moral values. His father was an ardent patriot and Pierre too grew up to be a patriotic young man and was deeply troubled by French defeats during the Franco-Prussian War. After embarking on a career as an educator, he postulated that it was the lack of physical education and training that made the French soldiers weak and more prone to defeat at the hands of the more athletic rivals. On his travels to England he closely studied the English education system where physical education and sports were given an important place in the curriculum and was determined to adopt such strategies in the French education system as well. Eventually he worked on reviving the Olympic Games and played an instrumental role in the establishment of the first International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Childhood & Early Life
Pierre de Coubertin, originally Pierre de Frédy, was born in Paris on 1 January 1863 into an established aristocratic family as the fourth child of Baron Charles Louis de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin and Marie–Marcelle Gigault de Crisenoy. His father was a well known artist and a staunch royalist.
He grew up in an era when France was undergoing profound political upheavals. France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War greatly bothered every citizen of France, and even though Pierre was just a young boy, he too was disturbed by the defeat of his beloved country.
He joined a new Jesuit school called Externat de la rue de Vienne in 1874. He excelled in his studies and was counted among the top students in his class. He passed his baccalaureate in literature in 1880.
Being from an aristocratic family he had the option of choosing from a number of career options. He was accepted by the Military School of Saint Cyr but an army career did not interest him. So he chose to study at the Law Faculty of the Political Sciences School.
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From a young age he was deeply interested in the philosophy of education and embarked on a career as an educator and intellectual. As a teenager he had read English novels from where he learned of the sports-centered English public school system of the late 19th century. Intrigued to learn more about the English education system, he travelled to England in 1883.
In England, he studied the program of physical education instituted by Thomas Arnold at the Rugby School and was greatly impressed by how the England had integrated physical education and sports with the academic curriculum. In those days, the French education system focused solely on the intellectual development of the mind and never gave any significance to the physical training of the body.
Determined to reform the French education system through sport, he began spreading the idea for the requirement of a balanced education system in France. He disseminated this idea through whatever means he could—lectures, speeches, and publications—and was able to gain considerable support for the inclusion of physical education in the academic curriculum.
He made several other trips to English over the course of which he learned more about their education system and became acquainted with prominent Englishmen involved with sports. In 1890, he met English educator William Penny Brookes, who had organized British Olympic Games in 1866. Brookes was passionate about resurrecting the Olympic Games on an international level. Deeply influenced by Brookes, Coubertin decided to take up the cause.
After meeting Brookes, he immediately started working on re-establishing the Olympic Games and eventually organized the International Athletics Congress in Paris, in 1894. Soon the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was created and the Olympic Games were re-established.
The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896, following which Pierre de Coubertin became the president of the IOC. The first Olympic Games were a big success though the Olympic Movement faced considerable difficulties in the time to come. Both the 1900 Games, held in Paris, and 1904 Games in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. failed to create any momentum.
The 1906 Intercalated Olympic Games, however, were a success and helped to establish the Olympic Games as the world’s foremost sports competition. A few years later, the Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912 also received a very positive response.
During the World War I, Coubertin moved the headquarters of the IOC to Lausanne, Switzerland. He continued determinedly to promote the Games as a means of establishing peaceful connections among the different nations in the world. However, his commitment to the Games cost him his fortunes—he had spent a large portion of his wealth in promoting the games and his financial situation suffered during the war period.
In 1924, the Olympic Games were once again held in Paris. This time the event was a resounding success which greatly satisfied the ever-ambitious Coubertin. He subsequently stepped down from his IOC presidency after the Games and remained the Honorary President of the IOC until he died in 1937.
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Pierre de Coubertin is considered the father of the modern Olympic Games. He founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to revive and promote Olympic Games throughout the world, and to lead the Olympic Movement. The IOC is the supreme authority of the worldwide modern Olympic movement.
Awards & Achievements
He won the gold medal for literature at the 1912 Summer Olympics for his poem ‘Ode to Sport’.
He received the Virginie Heriot Prize in 1936.
In 1937, he was made an Honorary Citizen of Lausanne–the IOC headquarters since 1915.
In 2007, he was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame for his services to the sport of rugby union.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Marie Rothan, the daughter of family friends, in 1895. The couple had two children. Their son suffered from severe sunstroke when he was a little child and suffered from its side-effects throughout his life. Their daughter suffered from emotional disturbances and was unable to lead a normal life. These family tragedies also impacted the relationship between Pierre de Coubertin and his wife.
Pierre de Coubertin died on 2 September 1937, after suffering a heart attack.
The International Olympic Committee constituted the Pierre de Coubertin medal in 1964 to honor athletes and former athletes who exemplify the spirit of sportsmanship in Olympic events or through exceptional service to the Olympic movement.