Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to poetry and poets and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of all poetry legends featured so far.
POETRY URBAN LEGEND: The first winner of an Olympic Gold medal for Literature went to a poem written by the creator of the modern Olympics.
In 1924, Oliver St. John Gogarty (from this earlier Poetry Urban Legend) won an Olympic medal.
What did he win it for?
Why, for a poem he wrote called “Ode to the Tailteann Games.”
You see, for a number of years, the Olympics actually gave out medals for ARTISTIC competitions as well as athletic ones!
The idea was first proffered by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the man who actually (more or less) founded the modern Olympic Games, in 1894, at the formation of the International Olympic Committee, a Committee he would be President of from 1896 to 1925 (and Honorary President until his death in 1937).
de Coubertin felt that artistic competition should follow alongside athletic competition at the Olympics.
His early pleas went to no avail for the first three Olympics in 1896, 1900 and 1904, but in 1906, the Committee finally agreed with him and scheduled to have them at the 1908 Olympics in Italy. However, due to financial issues, Italy had to back out of hosting the Olympics, and London instead held them. Given the time crunch (they had about a year to prepare), there was no time to plan artistic competitions, as well.
Undaunted, de Coubertin finally got them to have artistic competitions in 1912.
These competitions would continue until 1948, at which point the IOC determined that artists were, almost by their very nature, professionals and should not be able to compete in the Olympics, which were intended to only be for amateurs. As a way of making up for it, every Olympics ever since has had attached to the Games a series of cultural exhibits for those who are interested.
But during the time of the art competitions, the categories were Architecture, Literature (all kinds), Music, Painting and Sculpture. The works all had to be brand new for the Games and they all had to do with sports somehow.
So fair enough, but hilariously enough, the very first Gold Medal given out for Literature (and in fact, the ONLY medal given out, as they did not award any Silvers or Bronzes for the category that year) in 1912, the very first art competition at the Olympics, went to none other than the Baron Pierre de Coubertin himself!!
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