This book, a contribution to the modern history of Greece, weaves together three strands in the revival of the Olympic games: the nineteenth-century explosion of sport in Britain and the US, France, Germany and other European countries, which created the conditions for international competition; the social and economic progress of the young Greek state which made Athens a plausible candidate as host of the Games; and the genius of the idealist Baron Pierre de Coubertin in yoking together amateur sport and internationalism in a new institution with rich symbolic power.
The story moves from Athens to the Rugby School of Dr. Arnold and Tom Brown; Much Wenlock in Shropshire, home of an Olympic experiment which inspired Coubertin; Paris of the Second Empire; Princeton University in the United States; Olympia in the Peloponnese where extensive German excavations revealed the site of the ancient Olympics; and back to Athens for the climax of the Games. Besides Coubertin, the cast of characters includes the great German classicist Ernst Curtius who revealed Olympia to the world, the best-selling Greek novelist Dimitrios Vikelas who became the first President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Crown Prince Constantine who made the Games happen and whose career ended in tragedy, and the young farmer Spyros Louis who won the newly invented Marathon race.
In this the year the Olympic Games returns to their ancient birthplace and the city of the modern revival, Michael Lewellyn Smith has published a book detailing the fascinating three strands that led to the 1896 Olympics in Athens. Documenting Greek independence in 1832 and the modern history of the fledgling state, this book analyses the political, economic and social Hellenic elements at play alongside the nineteenth century explosion of sport that set the environment of possibility. The story moves from Athens to Rugby School and follows the lives, inspirations and ideals of the instrumental players who made the games happen. From the genius of Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin whose vision and passion for education led to the symbolic power of a new institution of amateur sport and internationalism to the Greek novelist Dimitrios Vikelas who became the first President of the International Olympic Committee, Smith paints the scene of a new stage for heroic amateurs. (Kirkus UK)