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Toward the end of the 19th century, France was still stunned by the ringing defeat suffered at the hands of Germany in 1871. A few critics said France had lost because she was too cerebral, too effete. Sport and physical exercise in general were considered a detriment to scholarly work. The less said about sport the better. No one minded when a leading newspaper explained to its readers that soccer was a game played with rackets and small, hard balls. People minded even less, perhaps, when a competitor struck back by saying that soccer was, in fact, played with long, flat mallets.
Then along came the little baron, declaiming athletic propaganda through his nose. He preached against "physical degenerance" in France and said that he wanted to remold French youth. He praised the relatively robust British educational system: "It is the application according to modern requirements of the most characteristic principles of Grecian civilization: to make the muscles be the chief factor in the work of moral education." He was denounced as a vulgarian.
Still, he managed to attract some of France's finest educators and philosophers to his ideas, as well as two presidents of the Republic, and he discussed his theme with Gladstone, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Nov. 25, 1892 was the day the baron chose to reveal his idea for reviving the Olympics. The occasion was the fifth anniversary of the Union des Soci�t�s Fran�aises de Sports Athl�tiques, of which de Coubertin was president. The place was the Sorbonne. The heart of the baron's speech dealt with the value of internationalism in sports. He spoke with fervor: "There are those whom you would call Utopians since they speak of the disappearance of war, but there are others who believe in the progressive diminution of the chances of war, and I don't see that as Utopian."
He shouted that the "cause of peace would receive a new and forceful boost" if nations competed in athletics rather than in armies. Then he promulgated his historic notion: "We must join to found a base conforming to the conditions of modern life, this grandiose and beneficent work: the re-establishment of the Olympic Games!"
The baron paused and glared significantly at the gathering. The gathering looked back rather blankly. People had no idea what the baron was talking about. At last, men began scrambling to their feet to ask questions:
"Do you mean a theatrical reproduction with fake athletes?"
"Mais, non," said the baron, "the real thing...."
"Then will the athletes be nude?" The audience was laughing. "Will it be forbidden for women to watch? Who will participate? Only the French? It used to be only the Greeks...."
"I foresee the Games on a world scale," said the baron.