Joseph Laporte was only 17 when the Jthem olympics d’été were officially launched in Paris in 1924. To take part, he boarded a large ocean liner with his bicycle. He will reach the French capital just in time for the event.
He and his brother work in a bicycle shop in Montreal. These fragile little mechanisms have become the salt of their life. Joe participates in local bicycle races. He earns them. Almost all. Having become Canadian champion, he obtained his passport for the Olympics. It only remains for him to manage to get there and find the money to finance this great crossing. What he does, partly thanks to the help of the Club Quilicotalso involved in the promotion of speed skating and racquet racing.
The Paris Summer Games are the second held since the appalling butchery that is the Great War of 1914-1918. The Treaty of Versailles may have sealed the outcome of the conflict, reconciliation between nations, on soils still soaked in blood and tears, hardly appears on the program. Thus, as for the 1920 Games in Antwerp, defeated Germany was not invited to the competitions in Paris. He is told that the safety of his athletes cannot be guaranteed to him…
Twenty-three countries are officially invited to the Paris Games. Twenty-two will participate, after Portugal forfeited. The consideration of colonial entities, whose names stand out more and more in the dispatches, confuses the account a little. Which ones should be considered completely sovereign countries, at a time when, at the instigation of American President Woodrow Wilson, the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination triumphs? In any case, the Dominion of Canada still remains very much attached to the Union Jack of the British Empire.
What do we notice at these Games? On the side of Versailles, that is to say in a place that evokes royalty, competitors are vying for places on the podium for a deer hunting shooting event, while the Olympic competitions of shooting live pigeons, in vogue before the war, have for their part been set aside.
Spectators can also see tennis games in an Olympic setting for the last time. The American Richard Norris Williams, survivor of the sinking of the titanic in 1912, won a gold medal in tennis. Although this sport is seeing its popularity grow, the organizers of the Games are not counting on it for the future. They also put aside another racket sport: the old game of tennis.
How do the great pundits of Olympism see the sporting future? Witness the new sports chosen for demonstration purposes during the 1924 Games: savate, Canadian canoeing, Basque pelota and cane fighting. Tennis, on the other hand, will wait until 1988 to be part of the official program again.
On the gymnastics side, the public will see no less than 24 athletes who, one after the other, all obtain the perfect score of 10. Did the public miraculously find themselves, as if that were possible, with ten Nadia Comaneci united in a single competition, or are the performance criteria of the time different at the other end of the XXe century ?
Among the gymnastics events on the program of the Games, the athletes must know how to hoist themselves in height using a rope… The Olympic events involving ropes are nevertheless losing ground. The tug of war, presented as an Olympic discipline until 1920, is no longer on the program four years later. New standards appear. It is for example at the Paris Games that the distance of the modern marathon is fixed for good at the bar of 42.195 km.
Tarzan in Paris
In the swimming pool, in a basin for the first time of fifty meters, the American Johnny Weissmuller collects the gold medals. His notoriety, acquired throughout these Games under the assumed name of his brother, will soon allow him to embody Tarzan in the cinema, “the ape man”.
In the midst of all this activity, the United States triumphs. The medal table is eloquent. The country of Uncle Sam crushes the other nations. These Americans capture 45 first places on the podium. Behind, the astonishing Finland accumulates just 14. Canada, for its part, does not bring back any gold medal. The Canadians won two silver medals in rowing, another in shooting and, finally, a bronze medal in boxing.
For the first time in the history of the Games, athletes benefit from a village created for them in order to bring them together. They even find showers and changing rooms there, in other words, almost luxurious comfort, according to what the press of the time says. The event is now attracting considerable international attention. The echo chamber constituted by the 1000 journalists gathered on the spot has something to do with it. All this takes place in front of more than 600,000 spectators. In 2020, thanks to television, the Tokyo Olympics were watched by more than 3 billion viewers.
A Very English Canada
Canada delegates 78 athletes to the Paris Games. With the exception of Joseph Laporte and boxer Charles Bélanger, all are Anglophones. The composition of this Canadian delegation, if closely analyzed, would tell us an economic and sociological story.
It’s hard not to notice right away that the Canadian team doesn’t have a single woman. Of the approximately 3,000 athletes on the Olympic site in Paris, just over 4% are women. A record, however, it is said… It is true that the founder of the modern Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, opposed the participation of women. So much so that, two years earlier in Paris, by way of protest, international women’s competitions were organized under the aegis of the new International Sports Federation. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) opposes it. This snub inflicted on her would be repeated three times, in 1926, 1930 and 1934. The very rich history of women’s international sport in the interwar period remains partly to be written.
Joe Laporte is the only Canadian to don a cycling jersey at these Games. Left alone or almost, how does he manage?
On July 23, 1924, he faced the clock in a race of 188 kilometers. He turns and turns the cranks around the Colombes stadium. It is there, for the most part, that the events of the Games take place. On this former racecourse, cyclists have somehow replaced horses. Laporte will finish 54e out of the 60 competitors who finished the event. When he returns to maple country, he will be seen as a huge sports star. At least in French Canada.
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