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"Oh, then we'll have Negroes and Chinese and...and...Redskins!" shouted one buffoon and the auditorium rocked with laughter. The baron was abashed.
Downcast, he left the Sorbonne. Outside, he was approached by a young woman who placed her small hand upon his arm. "Your idea was too much for them," she said. "It will be necessary to give it to them little by little. This time their reaction is not important." The young woman's name was Marie Rothan and she and the baron were married on March 12, 1895. Ahead lay the grandeur of the Olympic Games and the desolation of Lausanne.
The baron finally sold the Olympics to an assembly of world sports officials in Paris in June 1894. It was decided that the first Games must be held in Athens. Unfortunately, the news of this decision did not set off dancing in the streets of that city. In fact, the Greek government did not really see how it could afford the Olympic Games. The glories that were Greece were no more. The treasury was bankrupt. The nation was struggling to regain some semblance of vitality and direction after a bitter and costly revolution in which it had succeeded in expelling the Turks.
When word of disenchantment in Athens reached Paris, Baron de Coubertin hurried off to Greece. He met with the prime minister and was told there was not enough money to finance the Games. The baron said he must see the king. King George was out of town, so de Coubertin saw Crown Prince Constantine. And here, Olympic historians agree, the baron did something very wise: he did not launch into a paean to ancient Greece and the splendor of an Olympia long gone. Instead, the baron told the prince that the world greatly admired the Greece of the 19th century. He spoke of the courage displayed in the Greek fight for independence and of the nation's grim resolve to maintain its identity "when the world no longer knew there were any Greeks."
The prince sat entranced as the baron cried, "It is in this Greece that I believe!"
Young Constantine replied, "And I, sir, believe in your Olympics."
So it was done. The royal family organized a public fund-raising campaign that produced 332,756 drachmas ($65,246). Commemorative stamps brought in another 400,000 drachmas and the sale of tickets and medals another 200,000. It still was not enough; a great deal of money was needed to rebuild the decrepit Panathenaic Stadium of Herodes Atticus (102-178 A.D.), which was little more than a bramble-choked ravine. But the Greeks knew where to turn for the money—to George Averoff of Alexandria, a Croesus figure who had made millions of drachmas dealing in Egyptian cotton, wheat and gold thread. Averoff had already gained a reputation as the nation's leading philanthropist and he lived up to it by donating 920,000 drachmas to restore the heroic old pile. The resulting masterpiece seated 45,000 people. At its entrance rose a statue of Averoff. On the eve of the opening ceremonies of the first modern Olympic Games, the crown prince gave a stirring speech in praise of the merchant and when he pulled the cord that dropped the flag of Greece draped over the statue, the crowd roared: "Long live the Crown Prince! Long live Mr. Averoff! God bless our nation!"
The baron later wrote his own analysis of what the Games could mean to the world: "Their revival is not owing to a spontaneous dream, but is the logical consequence of the great cosmopolitan tendencies of our times.... Men have begun to lead less isolated existences, different races have learnt to know, to understand each other better and by comparing their.... achievements in the fields of art, industry and science, a noble rivalry has sprung up amongst them, urging them on to greater accomplishment."
The baron wanted no mistakes made about the origins of this new phenomenon, the modern Olympics. "As for myself," he wrote, "I hereby assert once more my claims for being sole author of the whole project."
When the baron and his wife had returned to France, Marie asked him, "Why was it that not one time did they mention your name during the ceremonies?"