Later Life

"The pilgrimage to Olympia, where the heart of our founder, Pierre de Coubertin, rests and where, every two years, the Olympic Flame is lit, is not for us just a return to our roots, but an opportunity to communicate with the 'Olympian' citizens of this ancient city."

Juan Antonio Samaranch
President of the IOC

Baron Pierre de Coubertin served as the President of the International Olympic Committee from 1896 until 1925. Upon retiring he was given the title of Honorary President of the Olympic Games. When he died in 1937 it was decided that no other President would be given this honor again.

Coubertin decided to retire in 1925 and continue his pedagogical work. He called his work an "unfinished symphony." In 1927 Coubertin was invited by the Greek government to Olympia, where a commemorative stele was placed to honor his work in reviving the Olympic Games. The grove in which this stele now stands in has been given the name Coubertin Grove. While in Greece, Coubertin discussed a plan for an academic center for the studying of the Olympics. He discussed this idea with his friend, Ioannis Chrysafis, the head of the Department of Physical Education at the University of Athens. Coubertin explained his need for the academic center soon thereafter when he wrote, "I have not been able to carry out to the end what I wanted to perfect. I believe that a centre of Olympic studies would aid the preservation and progress of my work more than anything else, and would keep it from the false paths which I fear."

In 1930 Chrysafis died suddenly. Eventually, Ioannis Ketseas, who had been a student of Chrysafis and Carl Diem, an associate of Coubertin, took up the project after the death of Coubertin in 1937. In 1938 the pair submitted a plan for an International Olympic Academy (IOA) to the Hellenic Olympic Committee, which was then turned over to the IOC. In 1949 the IOC approved the establishment of the IOA. In 1961 the IOA was founded and received the Bonacosa Award. It received a second Bonacosa Award in 1967. In 1981 it received the Olympic Cup. Most recently, new conference halls, a library and an administration building were added to the IOA in 1994. At the end of his life, Coubertin promoted his theories primarily through writing. In 1931 he published "Olympic Memoirs" which chronicled his dealings with the International Olympic Committee. He emphasized its complex characteristics and his need to have the IOC "much above that of a simple sports association."

Coubertin died suddenly of a heart attack on September 2, 1937 in Geneva. One of his final wishes had been that his heart be placed in the commemorative stele in Olympia. Each year, when the Olympic Torch is lit, the first runner on route to the host city stops in Coubertin Grove. In the most metaphorical of ways, Coubertin's spirit has remained in Olympia and will for all of time.