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The poem that won Olympic gold

In 1912, a new event joined the Games: literature. Then things got even stranger.

Nine days into the Olympic Games of summer 2012, we’ve all been reminded that this event is not, in fact, a simple series of sports competitions. It’s an international, hallucinatory carnival of dancing horses, Coca-Cola, terrifyingly strong teenagers, Paul McCartney singalongs, badminton scandals, rude commentators, bodies doing the nearly impossible—and, of course, poetry.

Poetry? Yes, from every quarter. A quotation from Tennyson’s “Ulysses” has been carved into a wall at the Olympic Village. Canadian writer Priscila Uppal is in London as an Olympic “poet in residence,” posting new poems daily about the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Earlier this summer, a weeklong festival called the Poetry Parnassus brought hundreds of poets to London, one from each of the competing Olympic nations. Of course, there is a long association between poetry and the Olympics: At the ancient Greek Games, poets such as Pindar wrote famous odes in honor of the winners.

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