the shot putter with magic fingers

the shot putter with magic fingers

Sunglasses on her nose, lips pursed in concentration, ball firmly held between her fingertips in the hollow of her neck: the Frenchwoman Micheline Ostermeyer, 26, takes off. In the stands of Wembley Stadium, where the 1948 London Olympics are being held, the tens of thousands of spectators hold their breath: 13.75 m, it’s won! The French athlete, great-niece of Victor Hugo, wins her second gold medal in the competition, four days after the one she won in the discus throw. Enough to make history: for the first time a French woman wins gold in athletics. The television cameras, which broadcast the Games for the first time, immortalize the feat. Twelve years after those in Berlin, three years after the end of the Second World War, the Olympic Games are back in full swing. In London, the damage from the German bombings is still visible, the athletes are housed in schools and military barracks.

Without having had time to savour it, Micheline Ostermeyer emerges from the crowd to the cheers of the audience. Not that she does not want to take communion, but she is expected that same evening at the other end of the city, at the Royal Albert Hall. She is to play a Beethoven recital in the prestigious London theatre. Because the robust French champion of 1.76 m is also a virtuoso pianist. “Micheline is the concrete reality of the philosophical message that we want to transmit through a humanist thought. She is the expression of two elements of culture”, analyses Nelson Paillou, then president of the French National Olympic and Sports Committee, a few years later. This atypical woman, who knew how to cultivate her singularity, builds a bridge between two disciplines that are complete opposites. She proves that it is not only possible to excel at the piano, an intellectual and bourgeois activity, and in athletics, a more popular and physical sport. His dual practice reaffirms the mantra of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics: “A healthy mind resides in a healthy body.”

An exceptional journey

Born in Rang-du-Fliers (Pas-de-Calais) on December 23, 1922 to a Breton mother and an Alsatian father, Micheline inherited the talents of her maternal ancestors, pianists and composers. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, she won numerous piano prizes and sports podiums. When the offer to play in London, the month before the Games, was added to the prospect of participating as an athlete, there was no question of choosing between her two passions. “Five hours of piano per day, five hours of athletics per week. (…) The recitals increase my ability to concentrate while athletics gives me mental rest,” she explained at the time. A few days after her recital, she would complete her London symphony by winning another medal, this time bronze, in the high jump event. A flawless performance.

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