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Evian increases focus on Olympic women’s golf

The Evian Championship opens up a horizon that includes the Olympic Games. Stuart FranklinGetty Images

ÉVIAN-LES-BAINS, FRANCE | The Olympic Games loom both literally and figuratively on the horizon this week, with the fourth women’s major championship of 2024 looming large.

The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the other hand, is located on the other side of Lake Geneva from the spa town of Évian-les-Bains, which hosts the Evian Championships, so the Games are literally on the horizon in that sense.

The museum, visited earlier this week by Amy Yang, winner of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, tells the story of the modern Olympics, but golfers in Paris (metaphorically the horizon) this week and next are more interested in writing the future than reading the past.

And that means winning a trophy in the south of France this week and a medal in the City of Light next month.

A section not included in the Lausanne Museum tells the remarkable story of the first female golfer to win an Olympic gold medal at the 1900 Paris Games.

Margaret Abbott was a cosmopolitan and unlikely sports champion. Born in Calcutta, then part of the British Raj, to a wealthy American merchant father and a literary editor mother. Raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and Chicago, Illinois, Abbott found herself studying art with her mother in Paris in 1900.

The second edition of the modern Olympics coincided with the Paris Exposition, and there was a certain amount of confusion surrounding both events. Mother and daughter were golf enthusiasts and signed up by responding to a newspaper advertisement for a nine-hole event.

Abbott won the event with 47 points and was presented with an old Saxon porcelain bowl with gold plating. Even when he died in 1955 at the age of 76, he was unaware that he had actually won an Olympic event. His family only learned of this fact in the mid-1980s.

The contrast between this strange experience and that of the American Nelly Korda could not be more profound.

Korda won gold at the COVID-delayed Tokyo Games three years ago and has since witnessed the magical impact of his medal.

“Every time I see this with my friends and family, they are always amazed and really touched by it,” he said. “It’s really cool to see people touched by it.

“It has its own shelf in my office. My (two) majors are on one shelf and the Olympics are on the other. I have a plaque made by NASA Hataoka’s carrier Greg (Johnston) with the Olympic rings.”

“I shed a few tears and I know my Whoop (my fitness tracker) said my highest heart rate that day was on the podium.” – Nelly Korda

While Abbott has never known the thrill of winning a world-class event, Korda still revels in the unique nature of Olympic glory.

“When I got up on that podium, I felt an intensity of emotion that I had never felt in my life,” he said. “When I saw my country’s flag waving, that’s when I realized, Wow, I won an Olympic gold medal and everyone I watched on TV got on the podium, this is what I’m doing now.

“I shed a few tears and I know my Whoop (my fitness tracker) said my highest heart rate that day was on the podium.”

So what is he looking forward to most upon his return?

“It’s the little things you don’t get to do every week,” he said. “The camaraderie between the countries and everyone exchanging badges is really great. I still have my badges with all my badges right next to my medal.”

Korda isn’t the only one excited to return to France next month.

Nelly Korda during the 2020 Olympics Yoshi Iwamoto, AFP via Getty Images

This week’s champion, Frenchwoman Céline Boutier, said ahead of the Tokyo Games that she would travel by boat if necessary after some players were undecided about whether to play. Winning her first major title on home soil last summer has further boosted the Parisian’s excitement about the 2024 Games.

“I couldn’t have scripted it better,” he said this week. “I grew up watching the Olympics and I never thought I would be playing golf in my home Olympics, especially at Le Golf National. I was inspired by watching (American swimmer) Michael Phelps and (Jamaican sprinter) Usain Bolt dominate their respective fields, and to get on the podium in Paris would definitely be a dream come true.”

Rose Zhang will represent Team USA in Paris alongside Korda and Lilia Vu, and Zhang’s summer already has a multi-sport aspect. She spent a day at Wimbledon in London on her way to France, and over the last month, England porter Olly Brett has kept her up to date on her country’s progress at the football European Championships. She described the tennis in London as inspiring and expects the same to happen in Paris.

“Wearing the red, white and blue at the Olympics will be quite a surreal experience,” Zhang said.

But not everyone’s Olympic flame was burning brightly this week.

“I am definitely disappointed to miss out on the opportunity to represent my country at the Olympics. However, I am grateful to the NZOC for giving me the opportunity to put forward my case.” – Momoka Kobori

Momoka Kobori is not playing for Évian, but the talk among Ladies European Tour players and officials earlier this week was that the New Zealand Olympic Committee had rejected her appeal not to be selected for the Paris squad.

Kobori was initially overwhelmed by congratulatory messages from family, friends and golf enthusiasts when it was revealed that she had met the criteria to qualify for the Olympics by placing in the top 60 of the qualifying rankings at the June 24 deadline.

Three days later, the NZOC reportedly begged to differ, claiming there was no evidence it was competing reputably against the world’s elite. The plea for a second opinion fell on deaf ears.

Earlier this season she referred to competing in the Olympics as a “childhood dream,” but now it has turned into a nightmare.

“I am definitely disappointed to have missed out on the opportunity to represent my country at the Olympics,” she wrote on Instagram. “However, I am grateful to the NZOC for the opportunity to present my case. Although the outcome was not what I had hoped for, I have no regrets and look forward to the next opportunity to present my case.”

As Kobori’s Olympic flame was extinguished, the words attributed to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern games, must have rang a little hollow in our ears: “In the Olympic Games, the important thing is not to win, but to take part. Just as in life, the important thing is not the victory, but the struggle.”

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