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France revives 1,000-year-old Cultural Olympiad ahead of 2024 Olympics

By primenewsghana
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For nearly 1,000 years, the Greek games featured artistic competitions alongside athletic ones. Now, this ancient tradition is inspiring France's new Cultural Olympiad.

What does one wear to the Louvre Museum as Paris gears up for the 2024 Olympics? On a recent visit, my fashion instructions were specific: I should don my finest jogging gear.

I had signed up for a unique running event called Courez au Louvre, which promised to turn France's most revered art institution into the world's most aesthetically pleasing gym.

This workout course mixing "inspiration" and "perspiration", as the Louvre's website promised, is just one small part of the so-called Cultural Olympiad: a sprawling series of more than 1,000 events touching on things like fashion, theatre, food and dance taking place across France until the end of September.

The goal of these "other" summer games is to promote broad aspects of Gallic culture, but also to revive the little-known Olympic tradition of including artistic disciplines such as sculpture, architecture and literature that was common in ancient Greece, as well as the modern Games from 1912-1948 (including those in Paris 100 years ago).

Some events, like a recent "Waiter's Race", in which 200 aproned Parisian servers from Paris' top restaurants dashed 1.9km through the city's streets balancing a croissant, coffee and a glass of water on a tray; and an upcoming jazz-themed Olympic Ball evoking 1924 in the Musée d'Orsay, are one-offs. 

Others are recurring, including a string of sports-themed art exhibitions at museums and a Festival Enflammé – a series of maritime-themed gastronomic events hosted by the Culinary College of France. Quite a few, like outdoor photo exhibition Sport & Food, which includes "the favourite dishes of athletes" on display across the city from 26 July, are free to the public, while others are available for modest fees with online reservations, or by simply turning up.

The recent "Waiter's Race" saw 200 Parisian servers dash 1.9km through the city balancing coffee, a croissant and water 

And so, I dutifully showed up at 07:30 and entered the Louvre's iconic IM Pei glass-pyramid entrance. 


It was long before regular opening time, and sleepy guards and cleaners politely ignored the 60 sneaker-wearing art aficionados gathering at lockers by the foyer. 

After being divided into two colour-coded groups, I started jogging alongside an almost exclusively Parisian collection of early risers up the stairs and into empty galleries.

What followed was a gorgeous blur. First, we dashed into the marble-lined Marly Court to stretch on yoga mats beneath gleaming white statues of pagan gods. 

Next, a dancer named Queensy led us through energetic Afro-Caribbean hip rotations beneath enormous Assyrian human-headed winged lions. 


A fitness coach put us through lunges along a medieval wall. We did relay races up to a Sphinx. The climax came in the sun-filled Hall of the Caryatids lined with ancient Greek images: a disco dance workout to 1970s hits blasted on a boom box.

The emptiness of the Louvre was exhilarating – the museum normally receives 30,000 visitors a day – and reminded me of one of the most charming scenes in New Wave cinema, Jean-Luc Godard's Bande à Part (Band of Outsiders)from 1964, where three young friends race madly through its galleries. 

As we jogged between the four dancestations, our instructor encouraged us to let out yells and whoops, which echoed through the eerily empty corridors.

Afterwards, covered in a film of sweat, I strolled the halls at a more leisurely pace to explore the historical link behind the Louvre's freewheeling exercise event. 

Today, we tend to think of athletics as far removed from the arts, but a special exhibition at the Louvre called Olympism: Modern Invention, Ancient Legacy connects the dots from Paris 2024 to classical Greece, where the Olympic Games endured for more than 1,000 years, from 776 BCE to 393 CE.

Between jogging, yoga and a disco dance workout, athletes in the Louvre did hip rotations

France played a central role in the modern revival of the Olympics: Parisian aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympics Committee in Paris in 1894 and spearheaded the Games' relaunch two years later, and the Olympics were held in Paris in 1900 and 1924.

While there were attempts to re-blend culture with the Games, they fell by the wayside after World War Two and are today barely remembered.

This is what makes this year's Cultural Olympiad such a charming revival. While many host nations have tried to promote their local culture to some extent, the French are taking the idea to a new (or, perhaps, old) level.

The French have always taken deep pride in their outsized cultural role in history, so it makes perfect sense that the land of Balzac, Monet, Cocteau and de Beauvoir should officially champion dance, music, literature and art – just as the Greeks did.