International Olympic Committee Bestows Pierre de Coubertin Medal on George Hirthler

Staff Report

Monday, June 27th, 2022

The International Olympic Committee presented the Pierre de Coubertin Medal—among the rarest honors bestowed by the organization—to Atlanta-based writer/producer, Olympic campaign strategist, author and amateur sports historian George Hirthler.

IOC President Thomas Bach ceremonially presented the medal to Hirthler at Olympic House, the IOC headquarters in Lausanne. While the IOC Executive Board voted to bestow the medal in July 2020 amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the presentation was postponed until circumstances permitted.

Created in 1997, the Pierre de Coubertin Medal is awarded by the IOC to educators, writers, sports executives, cultural figures, corporate leaders and others, including Olympic family members, who exemplify the Olympic spirit and its ideals through exceptional service to the Olympic Movement. The medal has been awarded 41 times, with Hirthler as the third U.S. recipient following former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 2000 and Utah businessman Spencer Eccles in 2002.

IOC President Thomas Bach said: "George Hirthler has put his creative skills at the service of the Olympic Movement for more than 30 years, and never more so than in ‘The Idealist,’ his inspiring fictionalized biography of our founder, Pierre de Coubertin. Even in fictional form, ‘The Idealist’ captures faithfully Coubertin's humanity and spirit. George’s work brings Coubertin to life and illustrates his genius, and this medal reflects George’s considerable contributions to our work and to keeping alive our founder's legacy."

Following the award, in September of 2020, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee President Susanne D. Lyons and CEO, Sarah Hirshland, praised Hirthler for his contributions to the Olympic Family both stateside and abroad.

Lyons and Hirshland wrote: “Your dedication, passion and life journey serving and promoting the Olympic ideals as a writer, producer, and international communications strategist has served to inspire our generation. Your brilliant historical account of Pierre de Coubertin in ‘The Idealist’ has served to provide the Olympic Movement and the world with an inspiring story and greater understanding of the foundations of the global Olympic Movement we so proudly serve.”

Hirthler’s work within the Olympic Movement spans more than three decades. Dispatched to the Olympic Library in Lausanne in April 1989 to study Olympic history on behalf of Atlanta’s 1996 Olympic bid, Hirthler—a lifelong peace activist since his college days of the 1960s—was surprised to discover that the Olympic Games were not only the world’s greatest sporting event, but part of global Movement designed to unite the world in friendship and peace through sport. Inspired by the idealism that Pierre de Coubertin built into the core of the Olympic Games, Hirthler decided to dedicate his career to working in the Olympic Movement. When Atlanta won the right to host the Games in September 1990, Hirthler and his design partner, Brad Copeland, formed Copeland Hirthler, which would rise to become one of the leading creative firms in the Olympic world across the next decade.

In 2000, Hirthler and Terrence Burns launched a creative collaboration that would span 20 years. In the course of his career, Hirthler served as the lead writer or communications strategist on 10 Olympic bids campaigns: Istanbul 2000, Stockholm 2004, Klagenfurt 2006, Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010, NYC 2012, Salzburg 2014, Chicago 2016, Munich 2018 and finally helped with the Los Angeles 2028 bid as a senior writer.

On that first visit to Lausanne, Hirthler began a detailed study of the life and times of Barron Pierre de Coubertin. In 1993, Hirthler founded the U.S. Pierre de Coubertin Committee (USPCC), which commissioned and funded the installation of a statue of Coubertin at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. Under his direction, the USPCC also led the translation of 700+ pages of Coubertin’s Olympic writing into English for the first time, which was eventually published by the IOC in the book “Olympism” in 2000.

In 2016, Hirthler published “The Idealist,” a 564-page work of historical fiction dramatizing the milestones of the Baron’s life and the founding of the Games. The film rights to the novel were acquired by Oscar-nominated film producer, Mark Mitten in 2019, and the following year were purchased by a major motion picture studio, with details to be announced later in 2022.

During 2018, Hirthler published a daily commentary on 365 of Coubertin’s most inspiring quotes, creating a social media web site—Coubertin Speaks—with a search engine that makes the Baron’s work accessible to anyone. Posted daily, the quotes are currently translated into Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish and being shared throughout the Americas.

Across his career, Hirthler also provided brand communications and marketing consultation to the IOC, USOPC, the Commonwealth Games Federation, numerous Olympic organizing committees and sponsors. His creativity was evident in the global theme of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, One World, One Dream.

The Pierre de Coubertin Medal is another honor in a series of international accolades earned by Hirthler. In 1996, the Republic of France awarded him the Chevalier in the Order of Arts & Letters for his work in promoting the Olympic Ideals through the U.S Pierre de Coubertin Committee. In 2004, Sports Business Journal named him one of the 20 most influential people in the Olympic Movement for his Olympic bid work. On the 10th anniversary of the 2008 Games, the Beijing Publishing Group released the Chinese edition of “The Idealist” in honor of Hirthler’s contribution to their bid and the Games.

“For me, given my work on Coubertin’s life, this Olympic medal means everything,” said Hirthler following the presentation by Bach. “Every fan, every athlete and every person who ever drew inspiration from an Olympian owes their appreciation to Baron Pierre de Coubertin. From this point on I plan to continue sharing and elevating his inspiring and important story worldwide in time for and following the Paris 2024 Olympiad in Coubertin’s beloved homeland.”

Hirthler is currently at work on a new narrative nonfiction biography of Coubertin, a story which he hopes to produce as a new feature length documentary as well. In 2020, he formed Atlanta Story Partners, a documentary production company in partnership with distinguished filmmaker, Bob Judson. They are just now restarting production of a feature documentary called “The Games in Black & White,” the first comprehensive look at the 1996 Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games and the untold story of how Billy Payne and Ambassador Andrew Young harnessed the Olympics as an engine of social justice for their community.

Hirthler is the CEO of Hirthler & Partners. A graduate of Temple University, Hirthler and his wife, Carole, reside in Atlanta.