Sporting St Paul's

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Sporting St Paul's

The London Olympic Games of 1908 coincided with the Lambeth Conference - a collision of sport and Christianity that left a permanent impression on the Games as we know them today. St Paul's also has a number of other sporting connections.

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8. Sporting St Paul's

St Paul’s and the Olympic Creed
2012 marks 104 years since the Olympic Games were first held in Britain. The Games were hosted by London in 1908, during which a service at St Paul’s Cathedral helped shape the ethos of the modern Games which still survives today.

The Olympic Games of 1908 witnessed a fierce rivalry between the United Kingdom and the United States. Americans accused British officials of favouring their own competitors and being deliberately anti-American. This led to protests and confrontations between representatives from both nations.

This tension did not escape the notice of the Rt Revd Ethelbert Talbot, an American bishop in London for the Lambeth Conference. Talbot preached at St Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday 19 July, a service to which Olympic athletes and officials were invited.

He addressed the congregation saying: "The only safety after all lies in the lesson of the real Olympia – that the Games themselves are better than the race and the prize. St Paul tells us how insignificant is the prize. Our prize is not corruptible, but incorruptible, and though only one may wear the laurel wreath, all may share in the equal joy of the contest."

Though Talbot’s sermon did little to quell the friction of the 1908 Olympics, his words were not entirely overlooked. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, at that time President of the International Olympic Committee, spoke at a banquet at the Grafton Galleries given by His Majesty’s Government on July 24 1908.

Coubertin spoke of the ceremony he himself had attended at St Paul’s in honour of the Olympic athletes and echoed Talbot’s words: "L’important dans ces Olympiades, c’est moins d’y gagner que d’y prendre part.” ["The importance of these Olympiads is not so much to win as to take part.”]

He then went on to say: "L’important dans la vie ce n’est point le triomphe mais le combat; l’essentiel ce n’est pas d’avoir vaincu mais de s’être bien battu.” ["The important thing in life is not the triumph but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won but to have fought well.”]

In the 1932 Games Coubertin’s message, inspired by Talbot’s words at St Paul’s, appeared on the scoreboard of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the Opening Ceremony. The phrase became firmly established in Olympic tradition at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. During the Opening Ceremony a recording of Pierre de Coubertin reading the Olympic Creed in French was played over the loudspeaker.

The official English translation of the Creed reads: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the fight. The essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”

Coubertin eloquently merged the wise words spoken by Talbot at St Paul’s with his own ideas regarding sportsmanship; he created a powerful expression, effectively capturing the spirit of the modern Olympic Games which still endures today.

William Meade Lindsley 'Billy' Fiske III (1911-1940)
The crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral houses many tombs and memorials, one of which commemorates the life of Billy Fiske; Olympic champion, fighter pilot and first American airman to be killed in action in WWII.

Fiske led the USA bobsleigh team to victory at the St Moritz Winter Olympics in 1928. At the time he was the youngest man to win a Winter Olympic gold. During the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, Fiske was selected to carry the US flag during the opening ceremony and his team went on to win gold again.

Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Fiske used forged Canadian papers and his contacts to become a member of 601 Squadron based at Tangmere, Sussex. His diary at the time reads: "I believe I can lay claim to being the first US citizen to join the RAF in England after the outbreak of hostilities.”

Squadron Leader Archibald Hope spoke of Fiske’s talent: ‘'Unquestionably, Billy Fiske was the best pilot I've ever known. It was unbelievable how good he was. He picked it up so fast it wasn't true... He was also terribly nice and extraordinarily modest, and fitted into the squadron very well.”

Fiske was killed in action during the Battle of Britain on 14 August 1940, aged 29. On 4 July 1941 (American Independence Day) a plaque was unveiled in the crypt of St Paul’s by Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Secretary of State for Air. The plaque reads: "An American citizen who died that England might live”.

Sinclair spoke these words at the ceremony: "Here was a young man for whom life held much. Under no compulsion he came to fight for Britain. He came and he fought and he died.”

Alastair Cook MBE (b1984)
England’s One Day International cricket captain, Alastair Cook, has helped England to achieve various cricketing victories since his Test debut in 2006. He is the youngest Englishman to reach 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000 and 6000 Test runs and is the only Englishman to score seven Test centuries before his 23rdbirthday.

Cook came to board at St Paul’s Cathedral School aged eight and attended the school for five years. His passion for cricket was evident even at this early age. Tim Roslin, who was games master during Cook’s time at St Paul’s, recalled: "I can only remember three occasions when he failed. He would get at least 50 nearly every time… There was a place at the school called the Jungle Room where they could watch TV and whenever the cricket was on you knew he would be there.”

However, cricket was not the only activity placing demands on Cook’s time. Cook was a chorister in the Cathedral Choir; he went on tours to Holland and Brazil, as well as singing a treble solo for a St Paul’s Cathedral Choir CD.

Cook had to fit in cricket practice around a busy timetable of school and choir rehearsals. Both he and his parents have asserted that the discipline, concentration and hard work required to manage this rigorous schedule from a young age, have had a positive impact on his cricketing abilities.

Cook was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in December 2011 for his outstanding performance in the Ashes series the previous winter. He will be taking on South Africa in the Test series this summer, before going on to captain the England side for the One Day International series.

Viktor Gustaf Balck, KCMG (1844-1928)
Viktor Gustaf Balck was an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) - the Chapel of the Order of St Michael and St George can be found in the south aisle of the Cathedral.

Balck was a Swedish officer and sports personality, one of the original members of the International Olympic Committee and often called "the father of Swedish sports”.

As a member of the national organising committee, he was instrumental in securing the 1912 Olympic Games for Stockholm, despite strong competition from Berlin. He was made an honorary KCMG in recognition of his international sporting career. 

Copenhagen, The Duke of Wellington’s Battle Horse (1808-1836)
A powerful representation of The Duke of Wellington sitting astride his infamous horse Copenhagen can be seen on the monument to the Duke in the north nave.

However, Copenhagen was not originally destined to become a war horse. Bred from a famous racehorse, Copenhagen had a brief racing career between the ages of two and three but due to a lack of success he was retired from racing at the age of four. He was then shipped to Spain during the Peninsular Wars and sold to the Duke.

Although somewhat lacking as a racehorse, Copenhagen became a superb battle horse. Favoured by the Duke, Copenhagen was used by Wellington for the duration of the Battle of Waterloo. When Copenhagen died he received a funeral with military honours and is buried under an oak tree in the Duke’s country estate Stratfield Saye.

Captain Sir William Hoste KCB RN (1780-1828)
Known as one of Lord Nelson’s protégés, Hoste was a captain in the Napoleonic Wars. However, his lesser known achievements include founding the William Hoste Cricket Club on the Croatian Island of Vis. His memorial can be seen in the south transept of the cathedral.

Walter de la Mare OM CH (1873-1956)
Walter de la Mare was a successful poet and novelist. He attended St Paul’s Cathedral School and became captain of the football team. His memorial is located in the OBE Chapel.

Sir Alexander Fleming FRSE FRS FRCS(Eng) (1881-1955)
Primarily known for his discovery of Penicillin, Fleming was also a keen water polo player and a member of St Mary’s Hospital Rifle Club. Fleming’s memorial can be found in the OBE Chapel.