Saturday, January 23, 2010

Origins: Citius, Altius, Fortius

Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), renowned as the founder of the International Olympic Committee which revived the Olympic Games, was also a bit of a plagiarist.

His Olympic creed was a pinch from what he heard at a church service for the Olympians during the 1908 London Olympics Bishop Ethelbert Talbot of Philadelphia in St Paul's Cathedral closed his sermon by saying: "The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to participate..." Mightily impressed, De Coubertin borrowed those words for the Olympic Creed:

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

As with the athletes he was seeking to motivate, the baron did not rest on his laurels.

A friend of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, Father Henri Martin Didon, of the Dominican order, was principal of the Arcueil College, near Paris. An energetic teacher, he used the discipline of sport as a powerful educational tool. One day, following an inter-schools athletics meeting, he ended his speech with fine oratorical vigour, quoting the three words "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (faster, higher, stronger).

Struck by the succinctness of this phrase, Baron Pierre de Coubertin made it the Olympic motto, pointing out that "Athletes need 'freedom of excess'. That is why we gave them this motto … a motto for people who dare to try to break records."

This phrase, "Citius, Altius, Fortius" is the Olympic Motto.


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