Josy Barthel

Olympic Person of the Month July 2023

Joseph “Josy” Barthel was an exceptional Olympic 1500m champion and sports administrator from Luxembourg. Born on 24 April 1927 in Mamer in the Southwest of Luxembourg, Josy Barthel initially grew up in more humble circumstances, but that did not keep him from success.

At the age of 16, he had already won the 1500m race in the summer of 1943 with a time of 4:29.6 minutes. Later that year, on 19 September, he took part in a race in Esch for the SV Moselland against Strasbourg and defeated Bässler, the runner from Strasbourg, with a time of 4:16.4 minutes. In 1944, Josy was called up for the Wehrmacht during the German occupation. However, because he was only 17, he was able to avoid being deployed to the Eastern Front.

At the age of only 20 years old, he won his first gold medal in the 800m run at the World Military Championships in Berlin in 1947. He also won the following World Military Championships with gold in the 800m and 1500m run. In his first participation in the 14th Olympic Games in London in 1948, Barthel made it to the final but unfortunately did not win a medal.

It was not until the 15th Games in Helsinki in 1952 that he was able to write history with his name. Despite a rather negative reputation due to the previous year, things were to turn out quite differently for Barthel this time. He not only took the gold medal and won the 1500m race, but also set the Olympic record at the time with a time of 3:45.2 minutes. He also defended his title as Luxembourg champion from 1945 to 1956. After failing to win a medal at the 16th Games in Melbourne in 1956, his sporting career came to an end.  He is considered the second medalist from Luxembourg.

Shortly after the end of his athlete career, Barthel was found in the background of sport as a sports leaderand additionally later as a politician. In 1962, he was elected President of the Luxembourg Athletics Federation (FLA). As a former Olympian, he was also President of the Luxembourg Olympic Committee for four years from 1973 to 1977. During his time as a sports administrator, he brought fundamental reforms to the athletics federation that make him stand out today.

In addition to his activities in sport, Barthel was also found in politics. From 1977 to 1979 he held the office of Minister of Transport and Energy and Minister of Environment and Tourism, and from 1979 to 1984 he was Minister of Environment, Minister of Transport, Communications and Information and Minister of Energy.

In his honour, the national stadium in Luxembourg was named the Josy Barthel Stadium after him. Moreover, in 2003, a high school bearing his name was opened in his hometown of Mamer.

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