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Paris 1924, or why tennis disappeared from the Olympics for so long
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Paris 1924, or why tennis disappeared from the Olympics for so long

It was in 1924. As Paris was holding the Olympic Games and partying, tennis would be noticed for two things : the american delegation’s razzia on the medals and, mainly, for huge organisation problems around the matches. To the point where the last embers of the conflict between the IOC and the international federation were blown away.

 

The rue François Faber, in Colombes, is a showcase of history. It’s also a good marker. You only need to look at the pictures to understand : it’s there, that the Italian football player Giuseppe Meazza lifted the 1938 World Cup, it’s also where the Racing Club de France celebrated its unique national league title in its history in 1936 but also where the Racing Metro 92 rebuilt itself a few years ago. Why ? For it’s olympic stadium Yves-du-Manoir, which used to be called the olympic stadium of Colombes. Yes, « olympic », as in 1924, the place had been chosen to hold the Paris Olympic Games. It’s therefore also there, during that year, on July 13th to be precise, that a certain Vincent Richards wrote the most beautiful pages of his career as a tennis player. After a few messy days in the suburb of Paris, on and off the courts, which will mark the beginning of 60 years of olympic games without tennis, leaving the pictures of this American kid with his two olympic gold medals (in the singles and the doubles) to be forgotten. In black and white.

 

Richards, the machine

 

But what exactly happened during that summer for tennis to leave the olympic games for so long ? Everything seemed to be perfect : a Henri Cochet - nicknamed The Magician, member of the « Four Musketeers » and French champion 1922 - in good form, the discovery of a new generation, and the arrival on the french soil of the American figure at the time, Bill Tilden’s protégés, Vincent Richards being among them. In the singles or in the doubles alongside Francis Hunter, Richards marched on the tournament and destroyed in both finals Cochet’s dreams of winning the gold medal. The Frenchman recalled a few years later in his memoirs his defeat in the singles final against the American : « I arrived in the best possible conditions and qualified for the final after having defeated Jean Borotra in the semi-final. I was defeated by Vincent Richards in five sets. Decugis, our captain, at the start of the fifth set, had the idea of taking a huge sponge which was in a bucket of ice-cold water and press it above my head, to give me some freshness : the result was unexpected, I was groggy ! »

 

IOC-ILTF, a battle of amateurs

 

In the collective memory, The Paris Olympic Games of 1924 remain as a total success. For the first time in history, the edition was massively covered by more than 700 journalists who arrived in the french capital as the wireless transmission was only beginning. Edmond Dehorter, a figure of journalism at the time, stroke his moustache while watching all the different sites from a hot-air balloon. However, the tennis tournament is remembered as a dark spot for many : the organisation, the security and even the crowd’s reception were criticized. All of that while the IOC was in an open conflict with the international federation at the time, the International Lawn Tennis Federation.

 

Some intruders on the court

 

Simply because the image left by tennis in Paris in 1924 was purely disastrous. During the tournament, it was frequent to see members of the audience walk down on the court to take pictures, under the eyes of the umpires, and therefore the players criticizing the crowd’s attitude. The weeks following the Olympics will then see the conflicts between the different parties emerge : the IOC wanted to remove Wimbledon of the calendar in every olympic year to let all the players join the host city ; the International Federation defended its own interest and naturally refused the proposition. The hidden problem was more profound and relied on the amateur status of tennismen at the time. A conflict which ended with a radical decision : tennis was excluded from all olympic competition and will have to wait until 1988 to make its come-back, in Seoul. As for Vincent Richards, he never saw the light of a major title again. Sacrificed on the olympic tennis’ altar.

 

By Maxime Brigand