Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Games by David Goldblatt

  • THE BOOK
    • The Games: A Global History of the Olympics by David Goldblatt
    • Published July 26, 2016
    • Other works by author: The Soccer Book, Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil Through Soccer, The Game of Our Lives: The English Premier League and the Making of Modern Britain, and The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer.
      • These books may be my insomnia cure: What's worse than watching or playing soccer? Reading about it! (Sorry, I'm not a soccer fan. I'm not a sports fan in general except for the Olympics!)

  • THE PREMISE
    • This is NOT a book recounting the great athletic feats of the Olympic Games. Some athletes are mentioned but only at a superficial level.
    • Instead the book covers the founding of the modern games, with a look into the ancient games. It also covers over 100 years of Olympic history, specifically the political part of the story.
    • The Olympics are often viewed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as above politics. They are deluded as this book makes clear.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The premise of this book is a good one. A non-political organization that reeks of politics (and corruption) is a fascinating topic. Unfortunately this is a slog in many chapters. 
      • Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, was an interesting character but you'd never know it from the first chapters. Some major tightening and focusing would have been helpful.
      • All the presidents of the IOC are interesting in their ways, especially Avery Brundage and Juan Antonio Samaranch, but they seem to get short shrift when compared to de Coubertin.
    • Generally each section (after the founding years of de Coubertin) has a chapter with an overview of the selection of host cities followed by individual chapters on each individual games though this distinction is often blurred.
      • Example: It's difficult to focus on the Moscow 1980 Olympics without specifically comparing them to Los Angeles 1984 due to the boycotts of those years.
    • Almost every city that wants the Olympics has a political reason for wanting to stage the games. Berlin 1936 to show off the Nazi world; London 1948 to show how they survived the war; Seoul 1988 to show their technological development; Barcelona 1992 to make the city a tourist destination; Sochi 2014 to show off Putin's Russia; and so on.
      • The Winter Olympics are somewhat shortchanged and get very little real estate in comparison to the summer games. 
    • There is the argument of the amateur vs. the professional, something the IOC wrestled with for decades. It's difficult to maintain that the games are for amateurs only when the USSR, for example, definitely paid their athletes. The IOC turned a blind eye, just like they did for the rampant corruption and the doping issues that were evident from decades ago.
    • Towards the end of the book is a fascinating look into the cities that host the games and end up with white elephant stadia or decades of debt. 
      • It took Montreal 1976 thirty years to pay off Olympic debt!
      • Sochi 2014 cost $51 billion, the most expensive Olympics ever.
    • Women's sports are mentioned as they were added, subtracted and then added again.
      • From page 109: "[Baron] Cobertin...in 1912 argued, 'The Olympic Games must be reserved for men...We must continue to try to achieve the following definition: the solemn and periodic exaltation of male athleticism, with internationalism as a base, loyalty as a means, art for its setting, and female applause as its reward." 
        • Naturally.
      • From page 114: Regarding the two women who had just completed the race in first and second places, "both, like all 800-meter athletes after a sprint finish, were exhausted. 'This distance is far too strenuous for women.' On this kind of evidence, pretty much alone, no more women's races of longer than 200 meters were run at the Olympic games until 1968."
    • The book is poorly edited and/or poorly written. 
      • Generally when you introduce a person you will insert pertinent information to identify them which you won't need to do in subsequent mentions.
        • Page 165: "one of Clarke Gable's dance partners"
        • Page 166: "heart-throb Clark Gable"
          • And yes, his name was misspelled in the first use or the author was referring to a completely different person named Clarke. 
      • In a book with minimal mention of individual athletes it was important to mention the same anecdote twice:
        • Page 184: "...while disgraced American Olympian Eleanor Holm - excluded from the US team by Avery Brundage for getting drunk on champagne cocktails with the press corps on the steamship that brought them across the Atlantic - was reported to have been swimming naked in the pool."
        • Page 199: "Brundage won his spurs as the head of the American Olympic committee after defeating the anti-Nazi Berlin boycott campaign and by banning the swimmer Eleanor Holm for being her own woman and drinking champagne on the trans Atlantic crossing to the 1936 games."
          • An anecdote so nice the author used it twice!
        • Page 158: "In Berlin, four years later, Sohn Kee-Chung, the Korean marathon champion, would bow his head in shame as the Japanese anthem was played, appalled that he should have run and won under the flag of the colonial oppressor."
        • Page 183: "Two Koreans, Sohn Kee-Chung and Nam Sung-Yong, gold and bronze medalists respectively in the marathon, bowed their heads in 'silent shame and outrage' as the Japanese flag was raised."
          • This example really caught my eye as I had stopped reading to look up Sohn Kee-Chung on Wikipedia. So to read it again 25 pages later? Did no one read this book before it went to the printers?
      • The author uses the terms "bourgeois" and "demotic" way too often.
        • Bourgeois means middle class.
        • Demotic means colloquial speech.
          • Each has several synonyms. A thesaurus can be a useful tool for some writers.
      • One factual error I found involved the name of the winners of the coxless pairs for rowing at the London 1948 games. This struck me because actor Hugh Laurie's dad won this gold medal with his partner for Great Britain and his was not the name mentioned in the book. The author meant double sculls, also a gold medal won for Great Britain.
        • Granted, I can't tell the difference between rowing teams --- and perhaps I know too much about Hugh Laurie --- but this was a simple fact to check. Once I see incorrect facts the rest of the book becomes suspect.
      • The book had randomly hyphenated words, as if the book was typeset one way and then changed but the syllable breaks weren't removed.
    • And my very favorite sentence from the whole book:
      • "Yet, despite the warning, Italy's press remained captivated by the female presence at the games, giving extensive coverage to the many celebrities who attended — like Elizabeth Taylor and princess grace of Monaco — as well as the olimpidaine, a core of bilingual young women, hailing from the very elite of Roman society, smartly dressed and extensively briefed, who served as interrupters during the games."
        • Hahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!
    • Recommended for people who want the nitty-gritty of how the games came to be. Otherwise I highly recommend Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World by David Maraniss. Excellent book that makes you wish for a volume of this caliber for every games.

1 comment:

  1. Shouldn't the interrupters have been providing the award of applause?

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