Charles Coste did not get to hear “La Marseillaise” when he stood on top of the podium at the 1948 Summer Games in London, but France’s oldest living Olympic medallist will get another moment in the spotlight when he carries the Paris 2024 torch.
Coste, who turns 100 on Thursday, won a track cycling Olympic gold in the team pursuit with Pierre Adam, Serge Blusson and Fernand Decanali.
His record also includes the 1949 Grand Prix des Nations, a 140-km time trial in which he beat Italian Fausto Coppi, a Tour de France and Giro d’Italia champion.
Coste’s gold is framed along with others, notably a medal he received from then-President Vincent Auriol, in a room in his apartment in the Paris suburbs.
“It was a great honour to receive the medal from President Auriol, but the most valuable one is the Olympic medal,” Coste told Reuters.
Coste, who was born in 1924 – the last time Paris hosted the Summer Olympics – needs a walker to move around, but his memory is fresh.
“It was a small podium. They gave us the medal in a box, they did not put it around your neck at the time,” he said.
“Then we waited and after a while, they told us ‘You won’t hear La Marseillaise, we could not find the disc’. Our goal, however, was to get the gold medal.
“It was a tale of friendship between people. My mother told me that when I was 12, I was saying I would be a general or an Olympic champion. I was the happiest of riders at this moment.”
The Games, for Coste and others, was an enchanted break at a time when “we still had food ration tickets” after World War Two.
“There was no TV then, our only goal was to get the gold medal. We were a good team of comrades and we were representing a country that was just out of five years of (German) occupation,” Coste said.
Coste should have been awarded the Legion d’Honneur – the highest honour in France – but an oversight meant that he only received it two years ago.
He is also set to carry the Olympic torch, although he seems apprehensive about it.
“I have knee pain,” he said.
“I will try to do it. It’s a great honour. Back in the day, there were not so many reporters coming to me. It’s a nice birthday present. I wanted to celebrate my 100th birthday peacefully but that’s not happening,” he added, referring to the celebration planned by the City Hall of Bois-Colombes on Thursday.