1919: The Unofficial Olympic Year

The onslaught of WWI defiled the need to host a hospitable environment such as the Olympics, and therefore, in 1916 the expansion for humankind was canceled; as it was in 1940 and 1944.  In the midst of a recent twenty year revival of the Olympics, (a special shout out goes to French baron, Pierre deCoubertin, whose insistence brought back the long-lost tradition 1,500 years after being banned by Roman Emperor Theodosius I,) the modern world also revived the rawest nature as well: war.  But what made the 1919 events unique was not the fact that it occurred at an odd year, it was the fact it was an attempt to mend humanity through a military outlet; the very same outlet which nearly destroyed Europe.  These events were called the Inter-Allied Games.

Reciting from the Wikipedia: “The Inter-Allied Games was a one-off multi-sport event held from June 22nd - July 6th 1919 at the newly constructed Pershing Stadium just outside Paris, France following the end of World War I. The forum for the games, Pershing Stadium, had been built near the Bois de Vincennes by the U.S. Military in cooperation with the YMCA. The event was only open to participation by military personnel who were currently serving or had formerly served in the armed forces during the War. 18 Nations participated in the proceedings which included, among others, track and field events, swimming, baseball, football, rugby, basketball, tennis, boxing, horse riding events, pistol and rifle marksmanship, and wrestling. Following the conclusion of the games, Pershing Stadium was presented as a gift to the people of France from the United States of America. The area, still known as Le Stade Pershing, continues to be used as an open air recreation park to this day.”

The National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City there had a special showing of this remarkable atonement.  “Despite the competitive nature of athletic events, the Inter-Allied Games effectively bridged international borders and served as a common ‘language’ unfettered by culture or nationality,” says Senior Curator Doran Cart. “We are proud to share this important yet fairly unknown story with both sports fans and history buffs alike.”  The exhibit concluded on December 31, 2012.  

Having visited Liberty Memorial, I was taken in by the stimulating visuals which made it easy to imagine time travel.  After the experience of engaging inside the museum’s maze of artifacts, technology, art, movies, and propaganda, I arrived at a stronger appreciation for a lost generation who survived the First World War and how the pre-1920 Olympics redefined aspiration for hope.  Rising from fallen ashes, to yet again repeat the experience in the Second World War, and to yet again rise above it, only solidify the importance of the Olympics.  Even today.  Even now.  The Unofficial 1919 Olympics has left a soft imprint of optimism and endurance that will continue to outlast another 93 years when our ashes are mixed with the ashes all of our fallen soldiers.  If the Olympics didn't preserve the knowledge of endurance, humanity, and immortality, then we cannot pass it down to our children and grandchildren.  

*photos taken by K.P. Kollenborn at the National WWI Museum

 The National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial http://www.theworldwar.org/s/110/new/index.aspx?sid=110&gid=1&pgid=1233
 List of athletes and medals


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