25.4 C
New York

For 2024 Paris Olympics, Colombes’ historic stadium regains its former lustre

Published:

One of France’s most historic sporting venues, the Colombes stadium northwest of the French capital was the principal venue when Paris hosted the Olympic Games in 1924. After undergoing thorough renovations, the site will recover some of its former glory by again playing host to Olympic sport this summer.

The refurbished Yves-du-Manoir stadium in Colombes was inaugurated this week in great style, in the presence of Paris Olympics organising head Tony Estanguet, French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra and other dignitaries.

“It’s a wonderful nod to history, to France’s sporting heritage,” said three-time Olympic medallist Estanguet at the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday. The Colombes stadium will be the only Paris 2024 venue to host Olympic events for a second time: at this year’s Games, the stadium will be the site of the field hockey matches.

A part of the renovated Yves-du-Manoir stadium in Colombes, near Paris, on March 19, 2024.
A part of the renovated Yves-du-Manoir stadium in Colombes, near Paris, on March 19, 2024. © Miguel Medina, AFP

In the run-up to the Games, the century-old stadium underwent 22 months of renovation. Two synthetic field hockey pitches were built, one with seating for 1,000 spectators. The 6,000-spectator stands on the main pitch, a vestige of the original stadium, were refitted and will be supplemented by temporary stands installed for the Games.

The nerve centre of the 1924 Olympic Games

A century ago, the Colombes stadium was the epicentre of the Paris Games, and it was even the site of the opening ceremony on July 5, 1924.  Today, it’s hard to imagine “the 20,000 spectators squeezed into the standing room” for the opening, says historian Michaël Delépine.

“It was the nerve centre of the Games. Just behind it was the first Olympic village. It was a bit spartan, with little wooden huts,” says Delépine, author of the book Le Bel Endormi: Histoire du stade de Colombes (“Sleeping beauty: History of the Colombes stadium”).

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games at the Colombes stadium, July 5, 1924.
The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games at the Colombes stadium, July 5, 1924. © Gallica, BNF

The eighth Olympiad of the modern era, in 1924, featured 3,089 athletes, 135 of whom were women, representing 44 nations and competing in 17 sports. The Colombes stadium hosted football, equestrian events, rugby, gymnastics and, above all, track and field.

At the time, it was the “Flying Finns” who dominated the middle- and long-distance races. Paavo Nurmi and his compatriot Ville Ritola performed heroically, winning nine gold medals between them.

Members of the Finnish athletics team at the 1924 Olympic Games, including Ville Ritola and Paavo Nurmi.
Members of the Finnish athletics team at the 1924 Olympic Games, including Ville Ritola and Paavo Nurmi. © Carte postale ancienne

An homage to ‘Flying Scotsman’ Eric Liddell

Perhaps the best-known rivalry from the 1924 Games was between British sprinters Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, whose story features in the 1981 movie “Chariots of Fire”.

A plaque in honour of Liddell was unveiled at the Colombes stadium this week. The French consul general in Scotland, Stéphane Pailler, who organised the ceremony, noted that “Eric Liddell left his mark on the Olympic Games because he gave up running on Sundays for religious reasons. Knowing that he would not be able to compete in the 100-meter event, for which he was one of the favourites, he decided to compete in another event, the 400 meters. Not only did he win the gold medal in this event, he also broke the world record for the discipline.”

Scottish athlete Eric Liddell after his victory in the 400-meter race at the 1924 Olympic Games.
Scottish athlete Eric Liddell after his victory in the 400-meter race at the 1924 Olympic Games. © Wikimedia

Born in China to Scottish missionary parents, Liddell himself became a minister and returned to China, where he died in a Japanese prison camp in 1945. Stephen Shin’s 2016 film “On Wings of Eagles” recounts his tragic end. “His sporting and human legacy remains a symbol of friendship between France, Scotland and the UK. A legend. A legacy. A source of inspiration,” the new memorial at Colombes reads.

Following the success of the 1924 Games, the Colombes site – officially named the Yves-du-Manoir Olympic Stadium from 1928 in honour of a Racing Club de France rugby player who died in a plane crash – became a key venue for French sport. “Colombes attracted the greatest sportsmen and sportswomen and the most celebrated spectators,” says Delépine.

The stadium was the scene of 17 world records between 1924 and 1980, 42 French Cup finals between 1924 and 1971, and 79 matches of the French national football team. It also hosted Italy’s victory over Hungary in the 1938 football World Cup final;  the French national rugby  team’s first victory over New Zealand’s All Blacks in 1954; Pelé’s only match on French soil with Brazil’s Seleçao in 1963; the European Cup quarter-final between Johan Cruyff’s Ajax and Benfica on March 5, 1969, with a record 63,638 spectators; and, not least, the world middle-weight boxing title match between Frenchman Jean-Claude Bouttier and Argentina’s Carlos Monzon in 1972, with 40,000 spectators in attendance.

Brazilian footballer Pelé, centre, is surrounded by three French players on April 28, 1963 at Colombes.  Pele scored all 3 goals for his team as Brazil beat France 3-2.
Brazilian footballer Pelé, centre, is surrounded by three French players on April 28, 1963 at Colombes. Pelé scored all 3 goals for his team as Brazil beat France 3-2. © AFP

A stadium reborn

Colombes fell from favour with the opening of the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris in 1972, but was given a second lease on life at the turn of the 2000s when Racing Club de France sold it to the local authorities, who promoted it as a venue for amateur sports.

The Colombes stadium will regain its Olympic lustre by hosting field hockey matches from July 27 to August 9. “It’s obviously moving to see this venue host another Olympiad. This stadium, which is sometimes labelled as a stadium of the past and hasn’t hosted a major event for several decades, is proving that we can write a new page, one of the finest in its history, 100 years on,” Delépine says.

After the Games, the 18-hectare site, which also includes football and rugby pitches and a running track, will also welcome the headquarters of the French field hockey federation. The new stadium is intended to benefit “local residents, with sports activities open to associations, schools and perhaps even universities”, Oudéa-Castéra said at the inauguration.

For Delépine, the story of Colombes’ Stade Yves-du-Manoir is just beginning: “We can imagine that in decades to come, there will still be sport in Colombes, and hopefully both at the elite and the amateur level.”

This is a translation of the original in French.


Related articles

Recent articles

spot_img