“The last lap – Paris’s Summer Olympics”

“The last lap – Paris’s Summer Olympics”

By Louise Peloquin

     The river Seine has fashioned Paris history since its name was “Lutèce” (1), begun as a small settlement on “L’Isle de la Cité”, one of its two islands. Even today, everyone still refers to its lively Left Bank where thrones the planet’s oldest university, La Sorbonne, founded in 1253 by Robert de Sorbon, and its Right Bank with “la plus belle avenue du monde,” (2) Les Champs Élysées. It was only natural for the Paris Olympic Committee to bank on La Seine to add a touch of French glamour to the 2024 games. Hence, voilá, they chose the revered river to stage the July 26th opening ceremony. Over 300,000 hand-picked guests will have waterside seats for the bash, a figure slashed in half a couple of months ago for security reasons. Just stop and think about the parameters of securing a mile-long +, open-air venue with moving targets like boats, floats and soon-to-be-discovered  surprises? A flat-screen on one’s TV-room wall will offer Olympic fans a better view.

The organizing committee also chose La Seine for athletic purposes – that of welcoming the triathlon swimming competition. The announcement quickly triggered a then-appropriate reaction. Parisian swimmers stuck out their tongues, and grimaced like gargoyles to express their disgust. But the committee did not get cold feet. On the contrary, they immediately undertook a Seine clean-up campaign like none other in history. Emmanuel Macron, the physically-fit, 46-year-old French President and Annie Hidalgo, the somewhat less fit, 65-year-old Mayor of Paris, vowed enthusiastically on all media outlets to don their Speedos and demonstrate their free-style together to witness in La Seine’s defense.

So now, less than a month before the games, how are the hallowed waters faring?  Well, for one thing, both the President and the Mayor have abandoned their plan to get their feet, and everything else, wet. Here’s the latest.

The last samplings confirm that the river is still too polluted for safe swimming. Authorities explain that this pollution is caused by the abundant rainfall over the last several weeks. Water from the pavements pours into La Seine and some drainage pipes have overflowed into it. The resulting high fecal bacteria count could cause the triathlon athletes to develop gastro-enteritis and skin diseases. The organizing committee has no contingency plan. However, undaunted, they bank on upcoming sunny days in Paris. After all, UV rays do destroy bacteria.

Gigantic, or shall we say “gargantuan” since this is France, public works running up a 1.4 billion euro budget, are underway. That should help boost the tidying task.

Another issue has come upstream. Last week, La Seine’s water level was six times higher than it usually is. In the event that the river is deemed impraticable, the triathlon competition will be postponed. (3)


  1. “Lutetia of the Parisii,” a Gallo-Roman town, is the predecessor of Modern-day Paris. Traces of an early Neolithic settlement, circa 4500 BCE, by the Gallic tribe “Parisii,” have been found. A larger settlement was established around the middle of the 3rd century BCE.
  2. The most beautiful avenue in the world.
  3. Details dated June 29th, “franceinfo” news.

3 Responses to “The last lap – Paris’s Summer Olympics”

  1. Louise says:

    Breaking news from franceinfo at 14:51 on Wednesday July 10th: The Mayor, A. Hidalgo, “will dive next week” into the Seine which will be “depolluted” for the Olympic open water swimming events.

  2. David Daniel says:

    Louise, thank you for your (wonderfully punning) report on swimming in La Seine ahead of the Summer Olympics. It called to mind former MA Gov Bill Weld’s famous dive into the newly cleaned up River Charles. The result in that case was felicitous and corks could be heard popping from Harvard to MIT. In the current instance in the City of Lights, maybe not so much. Those one continues to hope. And, if indeed, there are swimmers willing to take the plunge, perhaps a visit afterwards to one of the fabled (and perhaps fictional?) underground absinthe dens for a mind & soul-cleansing drink. Sante!

    ps: Where were swimming events held for the 1924 Paris Summer Games?

  3. DickH says:

    A reply from Louise to Dave’s question (posted by me due to technical difficulties):

    Thanks David.

    The Piscine (swimming pool) des Tourelles, located in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, was used to host the diving, swimming, water polo and the swimming portion of the modern pentathlon events for the 1924 Summer Olympics. There was a total of eleven events.

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