Boston 2024’s Guide to Poetry: Start with “Ode to Sport”

As the Globe reports today, Harvard was surprised to learn that Boston 2024’s original plans called for the university to play host to the tennis, water polo, field hockey, fencing and aquatics competitions.

Harvard might also be surprised to learn of Boston 2024’s claim that, like the other colleges and universities here, Harvard is “dedicated to Coubertin’s vision of education through sport” and that it is “already developing a K-12 and college-level curricula to promote the values of Olympism.”

Say what? Starting with — who’s Coubertin?

Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) is considered the father of the modern Olympic Games (or as Charlie Pierce has put it, he is “the glorious nut” who decided to relaunch the Olympic games in Athens). His intellectual career was devoted to demonstrating that organised sport, especially as practiced in ancient Greece, confers mental, moral and social strength. Modern scholars have criticized his work as overly romantic and historically inaccurate, but his reputation within the International Olympic Committee remains secure.

And he’s not only the father of the modern Olympic games, he was also a gold medal winner in 1912 — in the literature category (which I gather is no longer included among Olympic events) for his poem Ode to Sport.

You really should read Ode to Sport. If it were a wine, you might describe it as very fruity and light-bodied, with a bouquet of sentimentality and notes of fascism. Here’s a sample:

O Sport, you are Fecundity! You strive
directly and nobly towards perfection
of the race, destroying unhealthy
seed and correcting the flaws which
threaten its essential purity. And you
fill the athlete with a desire to see his
sons grow up agile and strong
around him to take his place in the
arena and, in their turn, carry off the
most glorious trophies.

The entire Ode is here.


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