Charles Coste, oldest French Olympic champion, decorated with the Legion of Honor 74 years after his title

‘I am glad you are here.’ Leaning on his cane in front of his front door, Charles Coste, 98, welcomes us with a big smile to his apartment in Bois-Colombes (Hauts-de-Seine). And with good reason, after being somewhat forgotten by the sports world, he is happy to find the light of the winners today. He is the only living French Olympic champion who has not been awarded the Legion of Honour.

The procedure only became automatic in 1952, four years after the title. On Wednesday, April 16, at the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee in Saint-Denis, this anomaly will be rectified. Olympic champion in the track cycling team pursuit at the 1948 London Games, Charles Coste will be decorated 74 years after his title by Tony Estanguet, chairman of the organizing committee for the 2024 Games in Paris.

Charles Coste, decorated with the Legion of Honor 74 years after his Olympic title

“I am very happy, especially because it is Mr. Estanguet who bestows the Legion of Honor on me because I greatly admire his sports career. It will be a wonderful moment. I dedicate it to my three comrades, Pierre Adam, Serge Blusson, Fernand Decanali, because there were four of us on the podium. I haven’t forgotten them.” testifies Charles Coste, who had already moved a few days before the ceremony.

Crowned in London at the Herne Hill velodrome (southeast of the city), the Habs even managed to beat the title favourites, none other than the English. “We had ridden the track several times in London so we knew it very well. We even set the track record at the beginning of 1948,” remembers without hesitation the former captain of the French team, still proud of this achievement. “I knew we would win, and the joy of crossing the finish line was immense,” says Charles Coste, leafing through a thick book with a black cover.

Charles Coste carefully keeps a book describing his entire sports career.  Inside are hundreds of photos and clippings arranged and categorized by year.  (APOLLINE MERLE / FRANCEINFO SPORT)

This book describes his entire sports career. Inside, hundreds of photos and newspaper clippings, ranging from short stories to glowing articles about his emerging career, take the reader back to the late 1940s and the following decade.

A few pages later, Charles Coste pauses and points to the photo of the 1948 Olympic podium. “The stage was very small. All four of us were tight on the box”, he smiles. His only regret: he was not entitled to his Marseillaise on D-Day. “At the time we were told they had not found the disc. But the French camp still sang a Marseillaise a cappella”, He smiled.

French gold medalists Fernand Decanali, Pierre Adam, Serge Blusson and Charles Coste pose on the podium after their victorious final in the men's track cycling team pursuit at the London Summer Olympics, 10 August 1948. (AFP)

Again leaning on his cane, Charles Coste leads us into the “medal room” at the back of his apartment. If a few photos of him during his cycling years adorn the room, the display of his exploits remains discreet. “He is modest compared to what he has achieved”, Yvette, his wife, slips.

“London was still under the rubble of German bombing and there were still the ration coupons. It was still a pretty rough time.”

Charles Coste, Olympic Team Pursuit Champion at the 1948 London Olympics

at franceinfo: sports

A glass frame stands proudly above the desk. Behind the glass are displayed all his charms that he has won during his career. The Olympic medallion quickly catches the eye in the middle. At the time, the medals were given in a box and not around the neck. On it we see the traditional goddess of victory and the inscription “XIVTH OLYMPIAD LONDON 1948”“It’s not gold, it’s silver gilt, because we just got out of the war and there wasn’t much silver.” he says, pointing to his medal.

At the center of the top is Charles Coste's Olympic gold medal, won in London 1948, in the track cycling team pursuit.  (APOLLINE MERLE / FRANCEINFO SPORT)

These 1948 Games were the first since the end of World War II, in 1945. Originally scheduled in Tokyo, they were rescheduled in London a few months earlier. “These were some austere Games, he remembers. The athletes did not have an Olympic village. They were therefore housed in military camps. “In our case, we moved to a US Air Force training camp that served during the war and was subsequently reused for the Games,” says the native of Ollioules (Var).

After Charles Coste had his Olympic medal in his pocket, he became pro in 1949. “I was waiting to do the Games before turning professional. (you had to be an amateur to participate) on the advice of my manager Paul Ruinart who one day told me: ‘if you are an Olympic champion, you are that for the rest of your life’. Today I see that he was right.” Charles Coste slips out, with his mischievous smile.

For his first year as a pro, he won the Grand Prix des Nations – 140km on the road – the biggest French race of the time after Paris-Roubaix. “I was aiming for second place, because I was expecting Fausto Coppi… (one of the greatest riders in cycling history with two victories in the Tour de France and five in the Giro d’Italia and a title of world champion on the road) wins it. Unfortunately for him he was tired that day and I imposed myself.” explains the Olympic champion.

The cyclist Charles Coste, dressed in the Olympic jersey, in 1948. This photo hangs in the

This was followed by a fourth place in the Paris-Roubaix in 1950, then a stage in the Tour of North Africa and two stages in the Tour of Argentina in 1952, before winning Paris-Limoges in 1953, “the longest French flight with its 340 km”, says Charles Coste. The Tour de France, on the other hand, never smiled at him: after withdrawing in 1950 the day before the start due to an abscess in the throat, he was forced to stop, each time during the first stages, in 1952 and 1957 .

In 1959 he decided to end his career and started a new one, far from cycling, within the Blanchisserie de Grenelle where he would spend his entire career. “But I have always continued to cycle for pleasure with my loved ones, and have followed the great cycling races”, he assures. still today, “he doesn’t miss any”, confirms his wife Yvette.

His passion has remained intact for over 80 years, as has his pride in representing France. “I have represented my country in many competitions and in many countries. So even today, if I hear” the Marseilles, I still have the chills’ book Charles Coste, which will celebrate its centenary in 2024. Will the Paris 2024 Committee pay tribute to him at the opening ceremony? “Nothing has been mentioned for the time being. But I would like to”, concludes the one who, 74 years after his title, still shakes as much at the call of the Olympics.

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