The Paris Olympics: the birth of an international story

The Paris Olympics in 2024 are the third to be held in Paris, following those of 1900 and 1924. It was also Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, the initiator of the modern Olympics, who finally brought these exceptional events to the forefront of international sport. This is the story of the reinstatement of the old Olympic Games thanks to Pierre de Coubertin’s tireless efforts. A difficult start.

The origins: the ancient Olympic Games between 776 BC and 393 AC

These are the dates most often used by historians, with many uncertainties between legends, sometimes imaginary accounts and contradictory dates.

The first Olympic Games are reputed to have been initiated by Iphitos, King of Elidus in Greece. Pausanias writes: “Iphitos, a descendant of Oxylos and contemporary of Lycurgus, who gave laws to Lacedemonia, had games celebrated at Olympia, renewed the Olympic festivals and the truce, the use of which had ceased”.

The Greek people were turbulent, and the cities were often at war with each other. During this rehabilitated truce, the first sporting event was organized, a foot race (the stadion), won by a certain Corèbe of Elis, a cook by trade – a true amateur sportsman. Sophist Hippias of Elis dates the first games to 776 BC. The games were held in Olympia, on a dedicated site some 30 km from the city of Elis.

But the popularity of the Olympic Games grew outside the city, first in Sicily, whose cities were founded by Peloponnesian settlers with the help of the soothsayers of Olympia.

The ancient Olympics dedicated to Zeus and war

The ancient Olympic Games were dedicated to the god Zeus and war, to prolong the truce between the turbulent Greek cities. Contrary to the spirit put forward by Pierre de Coubertin, the aim was for each participant to win, not just to “take part”. Victory was the only thing worthwhile: “The crown or death”, as the athletes demanded of Zeus.

Traditionally, the last competitions were held in 393 AD, shortly after Theodosius’ edict ordering the abandonment of ancient Greek religious sites.

The organization of the ancient Olympic Games

All athletes from the participating cities had to be in Olympia one month before the start of the Games to train – unless they were sanctioned for no good reason (illness, being held hostage, etc.).

It should be noted that while the Olympic Games were the first manifestation of the Panhellenic Games, which took place regularly in Greece in two- or four-year cycles, from the 6th century BC onwards three other competitions were created, together constituting the “period”:

  • the Isthmian Games in Corinth ;
  • the Nemean Games in Nemea ;
  • the Pythian Games in Delphi.

It’s also worth noting that the games spread to Rome. In 81 and 80 BC, Emperor Sylla organized the Ludi Victoriae Sullanae in Rome to celebrate his victory. The first year, the competitions were mainly artistic, but in 80, athletic events were organized. To make them interesting, the Roman dictator summoned all Greek athletes. The result was the virtual cancellation of the Olympic Games in Greece that year.

The differences between the ancient Olympics and modern Paris Olympics

In fact, from the outset, the modern Olympic Games had little in common with the games of antiquity. They are mainly the product of Pierre de Coubertin’s imagination.

The concept of the Olympic flame did not exist in ancient Greece: the closest thing to it, the lampadédromie or torch relay, was a religious ritual organized as part of certain festivities – initially the Panathenaeus, the Hephaisties and the Prometheia128 – but was not part of the gymnastic program.
Moreover, the races were strictly local to a particular city.
Likewise, the Ancient Games were always held in Olympia, unlike the modern games, which change venue each time.
Last but not least, the marathon, the showpiece event of the modern Olympic Games, did not exist in ancient times.

The marathon: its origin and introduction into the modern Paris Olympics

JO1896-1st-winner-of-the-marathon

The marathon was created for the 1896 Athens Olympic Games, based on an idea by French linguist Michel Bréal. The idea was to commemorate the legend of the Greek messenger Philippides, who is said to have covered the distance from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians in 490 BC.

This version is contradicted by that of the Greek historian Herodotus: when the Persians landed at Marathon, the Greeks sent the messenger Phidippides to seek help in Sparta, more than 220 kilometers away. While the Spartans failed to respond, the Athenians fought with the Plataeans.

Centuries later, Plutarch reports that, according to Heraclides of Pontus, Thersippos the Eroeus was the authentic messenger, but that, for the majority, it was a certain Eucles who travelled the distance between Marathon and Athens to announce the victory, at the cost of his life.

The distance between the city of Marathon and Athens is indeed around 40 km. Until 1921, the modern marathon was run over an unfixed distance of around 40 km, before the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) fixed the distance at 42.195 km, the distance of the marathon at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Pierre de Coubertin, creator of the modern Paris Olympics

Pierre de Coubertin was born on January 1, 1863 in Paris and died on September 2, 1937 in Geneva, Switzerland. He was a historian, politician, sports official, writer, pedagogue and teacher. He is best known for being behind the resurrection of the Olympic Games. He is also an alumnus of the École libre des sciences politiques (ELSP), known today as the IEP and colloquially as “Sciences Po – Paris”.
He took part in the birth and development of sport in France at the end of the 20th century, before becoming the renovator of the Olympic Games in the modern era. In 1894, he founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC). He was its President from 1896 to 1925.

During this period, he designed the Olympic rings and set up the IOC headquarters in Lausanne in 1915, where he created a museum and library. He also campaigned for the creation of the Winter Olympic Games, which were first held in Chamonix, France, in 1924.
His interest in schools put him in competition with the advocates of gymnastics and physical education, who were closer to the concerns of the 3rd Republic. One of his fiercest opponents was Alfred Picard, General Commissioner of the 1900 Universal Exhibition, with whom he soon came into conflict.
His interest in educational innovations from across the Channel brought him closer to the development of secular French scouting, and he played a part in its emergence in a context of conflict.

Pierre de Coubertin and the 1896 Games in Greece – The I Olympiad

At the instigation of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the Union des sociétés françaises de sports athlétiques organized the 1st Olympic Congress from June 16 to 24, 1894, in the large amphitheater of the Sorbonne in Paris. The two main aims were to study the principles of amateurism and to re-establish the Olympic Games.

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Coubertin had planned for the first modern Olympic Games to be held in Paris in 1900, at the same time as the Universal Exhibition, but the delegates felt that six years would be too long a wait. The Games were therefore scheduled for 1896. At the suggestion of Greek representative Dimítrios Vikélas, the 1st competition was held in Athens. The Congress decided “that the Olympic Games should be held for the first time in Athens, in 1896, and for the second time in Paris, in 1900, and then from four years to four years, in other cities of the world”.
At the end of the 1896 Games, Greece, as the nation behind the Games, claimed the right to organize the Olympic events every four years. Supported in particular by American athletes and British athlete and writer George Stuart Robertson, King George I of Greece asked the IOC, chaired by Pierre de Coubertin, to make Athens the permanent host city of the Games. Coubertin persuaded his IOC colleagues not to support the proposal, which was abandoned. Later, the Greek royal family realized that the project would be impossible to realize for financial reasons.

Greece’s defeat by the Ottoman Empire in 1897, which would later become Turkey, eliminated the possibility of the Games being held in Athens in 1900 and subsequent years.

The organization of the 1900 Paris Games: a new battle – the II Olympiad

The Franco-German war lost in 1870 was still fresh in French minds. Some leaders of the Third Republic believed that the defeat was due to the poor physical condition of young Frenchmen. As a result, physical education became compulsory in elementary school in 1882. The general commissioner of the 1900 Universal Exhibition, Alfred Picard, proposed the organization of international physical exercise competitions open to the greatest number of people, which was accepted in November 1893.
Pierre de Coubertin met Alfred Picard in January 1894 and announced that in June he would propose re-establishing the Olympic Games and organizing the first edition in Paris – as agreed at the 1st Olympic Congress in 1894. He also proposed setting up an exhibition devoted to the history of sports within the Exposition or its annexes, and a reconstruction of Olympia’s Altis. Picard did not follow up on this proposal.

The Preparatory Commission for the International Competitions

Alfred Picard created the Preparatory Commission for International Competitions, which met for the first time on November 3, 1894. Coubertin, who had organized the school competitions at the 1889 Exhibition, was appointed a member but did not attend the meetings, as he was in Greece preparing for the 1896 Games. The commission drew up a general plan for the competitions, which it published in May 1895.
In November 1897, after the publication of the general classification of the Exposition, Coubertin wrote a letter to the Minister of Commerce to express his concern about the place of sport within the Exposition Universelle. Picard replied that “neither of the grievances articulated by M. de Coubertin are founded”. Coubertin felt that Picard’s project “can only fail and, in any case, both by the setting chosen (Vincennes on the outskirts of Paris) and by the multitude of commissions and sub-commissions and the enormity of the program (it was intended to include billiards, angling and chess), it can only be a sort of chaotic and vulgar fair”.

The Organizing Committee for the Paris Olympics Games

According to his memoirs, Coubertin “realized that for the 1900 Olympic Games, there was nothing to expect from M. Alfred Picard” and “resolved to organize the 1900 Games without any administrative interference, by means of a private committee”.

He therefore set up an organizing committee for the Olympic Games, composed mainly of aristocrats and known by the name of its president, the Viscount de La Rochefoucauld. Coubertin’s intention was as follows: “The crowd will have the competitions and festivities of the Exhibition, and we will make games for the elite: elite competitors, […] elite spectators, people of the world, diplomats, professors, generals, members of the Institut”. The committee announced to the press in May 1898 that it had formed “in the face of the ill will and inertia of the Exposition offices”.
The program drawn up by its Olympic Committee was based on that of the 1896 Games, with the addition of boxing, polo and archery, and the deletion of shooting. Published in October 1898, it was judged “petty and unworthy of the nation” by Picard.
In November, the Union des sociétés françaises de sports athlétiques (USFSA), (despite Coubertin’s position as Secretary General!), decided not to support the La Rochefoucauld committee, which “represented democratic and sporting France in a way that was really too imperfect”, but to make itself available to the Universal Exhibition to help organize its sports competitions.

Setting up the International Physical and Sports Competitions as part of the Universal Exhibition

In January 1899, the International Physical and Sports Competitions were announced in France’s Journal Officiel, with some thirty disciplines to be contested, for the most part, in the Bois de Vincennes. The organization of the athletic games is awarded to the USFSA. Daniel Mérillon, a former member of parliament and president of the French Union of Shooting Societies, was appointed general delegate for sports competitions at the Universal Exhibition in February 1899. Coubertin tried to collaborate with him to organize the Olympic Games, but Picard, who described them as “an anachronism”, was firmly opposed. With these difficulties, and following “differences of opinion between the almost unanimous committee and M. Pierre de Coubertin” Viscount de La Rochefoucauld and the other members of the committee announced their resignation.

Fair play for Coubertin, who puts his reputation at the disposal of the Paris International Competitions

Isolated, Coubertin was forced in the spring of 1899 to accept the compromise suggested by the USFSA: “The Exhibition competitions take the place of the Olympic Games for 1900 and count as equivalent to the second Olympiad”. Despite an organization which he considered inadequate (“nothing came out of the ground… nor out of the offices, except new sub-commissions and copious regulations”) and which provoked concern abroad, Coubertin then gave his support to the USFSA.

Paris Olympics-jo-1900-ceremonie-ouverture

Coubertin then lent his support to the Exhibition competitions in his capacity as IOC President: he wrote articles in foreign newspapers, sent circulars to his IOC colleagues and also promoted the competitions during a trip to Northern Europe. Although he wanted to take advantage of the simultaneous organization of the World’s Fair and the Olympic Games to increase the impact of the latter, Coubertin finally had to acknowledge the five-month sports competitions, open to professionals and women, which were overshadowed by the Fair and not even named “Olympic Games” either in official documents or on promotional posters.

In addition to their role in the education and promotion of sport, the aims of the physical exercise and sports competitions, as seen by the Exhibition’s general commissioner Alfred Picard, was to give a scientific character to the sports competitions. He therefore called for the creation of the Hygiene and Physiology Committee, headed by physician Étienne-Jules Marey and made up of some fifty researchers. Forming section XIII of the general program, the committee’s aims included determining the effects of different sports on the body, observing their mechanisms and discovering the reasons behind the exceptional performances of the best athletes.

Why so much resentment between clans – and between individuals?

First of all, there was little affinity between Coubertin and Picard. Moreover, the definition of what the Olympic Games were to become was not yet clear, and would become so with each subsequent Olympic Games until 1924. Secondly, there were two different objectives: on the one hand, popular gymnastics, with the defeat of France in 1870 in mind, and on the other, elitism, for competitors and spectators alike. Finally, the Olympic Games, an emerging sporting event “glued” to a powerful organization honed by the Universal Exhibitions that preceded the 1900 event. There had been 5 Paris Universal Exhibitions in 1855, 1867, 1878 and 1889.

Economic aspects of the World’s Fair sporting events

Expenditure by the various organizing committees for sports competitions totaled 1,780,620 francs, including 953,448 for prizes awarded to participants. Of this sum, 1,045,300 francs were subsidies from the World’s Fair. Entrance ticket revenue for the Exhibition was well below forecast, at 59,059.60 francs. Other costs covered by the Exhibition amounted to 280,500 francs (including 150,000 francs for the construction of the velodrome and 80,000 for the aerostation park). The Exhibition’s expenditure on organizing the sporting competitions therefore came to around 1,280,000 francs. Adding the 150,000 francs paid by the City of Paris for the velodrome to the expenses of the organizing committees and the Exposition, the total cost of the sports competitions was around 2.2 million francs.
The 1,045,300 francs allocated to the organizing committees for the sports competitions represented around 1% of the overall budget for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. This sum can be estimated to be equivalent to around 2.5 million euros in 2006.

Sports events drowned out by the 1900 Universal Exhibition

As planned by Pierre de Coubertin, these sporting events were overshadowed by the rest of the Exposition. No posters were designed to promote all the sports competitions at the Exposition Universelle, but posters were created for the various sports. However, they made no reference to the Olympic Games, which were virtually unknown to the public in 1900. A poster announcing the fencing competitions, designed by Jean de Paleologu, was subsequently retained as the official poster for the 1900 Games. It depicted a female fencer, even though no women took part in the fencing competitions. There were other posters for athletics, rowing and gymnastics. The term “Olympic” does not appear in official documents either. Competitions are grouped together under the name “International Physical and Sports Competitions”.

So true is this that many athletes themselves are unaware that the events they take part in are part of the Olympic Games. Others would die a few years later, unaware that they had been winners of events at the 1900 Olympic Games!

The organization of sporting events

The World’s Fair sports competitions ran from May 14 to October 28, 1900, covering almost the entire duration of the exhibition. The Exposition Universelle opened to the public on April 15. It closed on November 12, after 212 days. It welcomed 50.8 million visitors. How many people attended a sporting event?

Sports competitions at the World Expo attracted 58,731 participants. But according to the IOC, only 997 athletes from 24 countries, including 22 women, competed in the events it considers Olympic. Women were present at the Olympic Games for the first time; British tennis player Charlotte Cooper became the first Olympic champion in an individual event.
The IOC recognizes 95 events out of an estimated total of 477 for all sports competitions at the exhibition. Among the recognized competitions, three sports (Basque pelota, cricket and croquet) and several events (e.g. long jump on horseback and swimming with obstacles) make their only-ever appearance on the Olympic program.
Unrecognized competitions include such disciplines as balloon competitions, angling (!!) and cannon shooting (!!!), as well as professional, French and disabled events and school competitions.

Approximations in organization

There were a number of failures, due to the inefficiency of the organization and the organizers, as well as the sheer number of athletes competing (almost 60,000, compared with around 10,000 in 2024). This was foreseen by Pierre de Coubertin.

The pole vault competition takes place in confusion: three of the best American vaulters do not want the event to take place on a Sunday, because they belong to a Methodist university. Two of them, Charles Dvorak and Bascom Johnson, enter the competition anyway, but leave because they are told it has been postponed. The officials then change their minds and the event goes ahead without them, but with Baxter still present after winning the high jump. Baxter wins the pole vault ahead of his compatriot.

Paris Olympics-jo-of-1900-in-paris-a-partial-success

Hungarian Rudolf Bauer wins the discus throw ahead of Bohemian František Janda-Suk and American Richard Sheldon. The discus landing area is between two rows of trees, making the event even more difficult. In the hammer throw, an oak tree in the launch area disrupts the athletes. World record holder John Flanagan had to wait until his fourth attempt to take first place, ahead of two compatriots. The Americans also achieve a hat-trick in the shot put.

The marathon takes place at the Croix-Catelan in the Bois de Boulogne, with start and finish at the same point and a course of 40.260 kilometers (it will be officialized at 42.195 kilometers in 1921). Competitors set off mid-afternoon in temperatures of 39 degrees. In some places, they had to find their way among cars, cyclists, streetcars, craftsmen’s carts, passers-by and herds of sheep and cows being driven to the abattoirs at La Villette. The five French competitors recognized the course, but the Swedish Ernst Fast, one of the favorites, was misdirected by a policeman at the Porte de Passy while in the lead and fell behind. Only seven of the thirteen competitors finished the race. The marathon was won in 2 h 59 min 45 s by Luxembourger Michel Théato, running for France, ahead of Frenchman Émile Champion and Ernst Fast105,106. The British and Americans accuse Théato of taking shortcuts and being escorted.

The final of the coxed fours event was to bring together the winners of the three heats and the runner-up of heat 3, but when the officials noticed that the losers of heats 2 and 3 had better times than the leaders of heat 1, they decided to organize an extra heat. This was cancelled, however, as the organizers were unable to contact all the crews, and decided that the final would bring together the three winners and the three fastest losers. The series winners refused to take part, as the course was prepared for only four boats, not 6. The final was won by Cercle de l’Aviron Roubaix ahead of Union Nautique de Lyon and the German crew Favorite Hammonia. As the result was not satisfactory, a second final was organized for the series winners. The Germania Ruder Club won ahead of Minerva Amsterdam and the German Ludwigshafener Ruder Verein. Both finals are considered Olympic finals.

Cricket was included in the program for the 1896 Olympic Games, but the event was cancelled due to a lack of participants. In 1900 Paris Olympics, three matches were scheduled: France – Belgium, France – Netherlands and France – Great Britain. Only the third took place, as the Dutch could not find enough players and the Belgians did not send a team. The match, the only one in the history of Olympic cricket, takes place on August 19 and 20 at the Velodrome de Vincennes. Great Britain is represented by the Devon & Somerset Wanderers, and France by twelve players selected from two member clubs of the Union des sociétés françaises de sports athlétiques, most of whom are British expatriates in France. It is for this reason that in 2021 the IOC will finally award the silver medal won by the French team to the Mixed Team.

The 200-meter freestyle competitors achieved very fast times for the time, as they swam in the direction of the current of the Seine, between Courbevoie and Asnières.
The British favourites, the Osborne Swimming Club, were disqualified for arriving late.

In the 200-meter freestyle, swimmers must clear a horizontal bar, pass over a row of boats and swim under another row of boats. The winner of the 200-meter freestyle, Frederick Lane, crossed the back of the boats, where the passage was easier than in the middle, and won by a small margin over Otto Wahle.

The tug-of-war event (or tug-of-war: 2 teams pulling on the same rope! At the Olympic Games?) is organized in conjunction with the athletics competitions at La Croix-Catelan. Two teams entered: France, represented by Racing Club de France, and the United States. However, the Americans withdrew because three members of their team were competing at the same time in the hammer throw. They were replaced by Swedish and Danish athletes, who decided at the last minute to form a joint team. The Scandinavians easily won both heats. At the end of the day, the Americans take on the Scandinavians out of competition. After winning the first heat, the Americans are in the process of losing the second when some of their compatriots in the audience start pulling the rope to help them. The officials then intervene to prevent a fight between the two teams.

The Meulan regatta begins on May 20, when the wind is so light that no boats arrive before the deadline, which is therefore extended. Seven boats are classified, two of which are subsequently disqualified for using a means of propulsion other than their sails.

Strange as it may seem today, there are three Gunnery events at the Paris Olympics. The six-day individual event attracted 542 participants. For the field battery firing, 16 officers and non-commissioned officers, assisted by 30 staff, fire six guns! These events have never been “classified” as an Olympic speciality, and will disappear from subsequent Olympic Games.

Anecdotes are also part of the 1900 Paris Olympics

During the Paris Olympics and in the heats of the two-man coxed event, Dutch favorites François Brandt and Roelof Klein were surprised to finish eight seconds behind France’s Lucien Martinet and René Waleff. This was because the Dutch coxswain, Hermanus Brockmann, was an adult weighing 60 kg, whereas the French crews were lighter children. They decided to do the same, and in the final, their coxswain was a 33 kg child who had not been entered by the French teams because he weighed too much. His age is estimated at between 7 and 12. In the final, the Dutch set off quickly with their new new bareur and, although they were caught towards the end, won the event by 0.2 seconds over Martinet and Waleff. The name of the Parisian boy has never been found, but he is probably the youngest Olympic champion in history.

At the occasion of the marathon of the Paris Olympics, a Frenchman favorite, Georges Touquet-Daunis, stopped at a café after 12 kilometers and announced after a few beers that he wouldn’t be starting again because of the heat.

American Maxie Long wins the 400 m track and field event, cheered on by French spectators who mistake his blue-and-white Columbia University uniform for that of Racing Club de France.

American Margaret Abbott of the Chicago Club wins the competition, completing the nine-hole course in 47 strokes. She came to Paris in 1899 with her mother Mary Abbott, who finished seventh in the tournament, to study art. She later explained her victory by the fact that, during the Paris Olympics, “all the French girls had apparently misunderstood the nature of the game planned for that day and came in high heels and tight skirts”. She died in 1955 without knowing that she had won the Paris Olympics tournament, nor that she was the first American Olympic champion in history. She would remain the only gold medallist in her sport until the women’s golf tournament returned to the Olympic program in Rio in 2016.

Medal tables at the time of the Paris Olympics of 1900

The organizers of the sporting competitions at the World’s Fair did not list the victories achieved by the athletes of each country, nor did they establish any ranking between the participating nations. Olympic medals in gold, silver and bronze, awarded to the top three finishers in each event, did not exist in 1900. They appeared for the first time at the 1904 Saint-Louis Olympic Games in the USA. The medal table for the 1900 Paris Olympics Games was therefore drawn up retrospectively, awarding medals to the top three finishers in the only events considered to be Olympic.
France, the country from which more than half the athletes came, dominated the ranking at the Paris Olympics. It was the only time in its history (not counting the 1906 Intercalary Games), with 101 medals, 26 of them gold. The United States came second with 47 medals, 19 of them gold, most of them won in the athletics events. Great Britain came third with 30 medals, including 15 gold. The twelve medals won together by athletes from different countries were awarded to the mixed team.

Reactions from the press and Pierre de Coubertin

The World’s Fair sports competitions were considered a great success by journalists of the time. The sports daily Le Vélo, for example, wrote that “Sport in 1900 gravitated around this single focus, Paris”. L’Auto-Vélo reported that “Not since the time when the Olympic Games were held every four years has there been a sporting event like this in Paris”. L’Auto-Vélo, for its part, points out that “never since the time when the Olympic Games, held every four years, aroused considerable emotions in Greece and throughout the ancient world, has sport been more in the limelight than this year, never has it so preoccupied the crowds […]. […] So sport has become a kind of new religion”.

In his memoirs published in 1931, Pierre de Coubertin was highly critical of the organization of sporting competitions in 1900. In particular, he wrote of the Paris Olympics Games: “Unfortunately, if there was one place in the world where people were indifferent to it, it was above all Paris…” and “Some interesting results, but nothing Olympic, were noted. In the words of one of our colleagues, our work had been “used up by being torn to shreds”. The word remained apt. It characterizes the experience of 1900. It proved, in any case, that we must never allow the Games to be annexed to one of those great fairs in the midst of which their philosophical value evaporates and their pedagogical scope becomes inoperative”.

On the basis of these memoirs, sports historians, particularly French ones, generally pass negative judgment on the organizers, who gave the Olympic Games a modest place at the 1900 Universal Exhibition. In his Histoire du Sport français de 1870 à nos jours, published in 1983, Jean-Toussaint Fieschi writes, for example: “It could have been a major event, an opportunity to assert the sporting fact in France; all it turned out to be was a sad fair, a hodgepodge of more or less official events, amateur and professional, scattered all over the capital, swallowed up in an epidemic of competitions, parades and reviews. That the Paris Olympics Games could have survived such a fiasco seems scarcely believable today”. The situation was similar in the Anglo-Saxon world, where the 1904 Games in St. Louis, USA, were organized as part of a World’s Fair. They are sometimes referred to as the “Farcical Games”.

Other 1900 disciplines not considered at Paris Olympics

These included automobilism, pigeon racing, balloon competitions, jeu de boules, long palm, motorboating, angling, lifesaving and cannon shooting.

Automobile racing is divided into two parts: endurance events and speed racing. The Paris-Toulouse-Paris speed race takes place in three stages over a course of 1,448 kilometers. Eighteen of the 55 vehicles at the start reached the finish. Alfred Velghe won the category for cars with an average speed of over 65 km/h. He drove a Mors car weighing over a ton and fitted with Michelin tires. Louis and Marcel Renault, who founded their company in 1899, won the small car category (cars weighing less than 400 kg) with their latest model, averaging 36.4 km/h one way and 42 km/h on the return journey. But even at this speed, racing cars can be dangerous. During the 1903 Paris-Madrid race, Marcel Renault missed a bend at Couhé-Vérac, south of Poitiers, and was fatally injured. He died two days later.

Boules events are organized at the Saint-Mandé boulodrome. Two tournaments are held: boule lyonnaise and boule parisienne (or jeu de berges). Fifty-four quadrettes (216 players), all French, took part. A team from Lyon won the boule lyonnaise and a team from Saint-Mandé the boule parisienne.

The angling competition takes place on the Ile aux Cygnes in Paris, along the Seine. It attracts 600 competitors and 20,000 spectators over four days. Despite accidental pollution from a sewer, the participants catch 2,051 fish, including 881 in the final. Élie Lesueur from Amiens won the cup for catching the biggest fish, and Hyacinthe Lalanne was awarded the diploma of first in the world for his 47 catches.

The gunnery competitions are organized at the Vincennes artillery range in collaboration with the Société de tir au canon de Paris. The program consists of three parts: individual firing, field battery firing and siege battery firing. The six-day individual event brings together 542 participants who must handle a 90-mm gun. For the field battery firing, 16 officers and non-commissioned officers, assisted by 30 staff, fire six guns. Forty-six batteries were formed for this event. For siege battery firing, one commander, twelve pointers and eight assistants are needed to handle the four guns.

The Olympic Games until 1924

After 1900, the St. Louis Olympics were again “coupled” with a World’s Fair. Subsequent events were organized independently, and took place every 4 years – except in 1916 – with the necessary adjustments. It was only with the Paris Olympics Games in 1924 that the Olympic formula matured into what it is today.

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