Episode 14: 107 Years in the Making

When the Chicago Cupodcast-icon1bs finally ended the “Curse of the Billy Goat,” they demonstrated just how historic “America’s Pastime” truly is. When Michael Phelps won his 28th Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro, he furthered his case for being known as the greatest Olympian history has ever known. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling once again tackle the history of sports, and are joined by Emmy award-winning sports historian, Amy Bass (@bassab1).

Amy Bass on the Corrupt, Troubling and Fabulous Sochi Winter Olympics

Amy Bass

Amy Bass knows the Olympic Games.  For as long as I have known her she has supervised the research room for NBC’s Olympic coverage.  In fact, in 2012 she won an Emmy award for her work.  And did I mention she has published extensively on the cultural history of sports and teaches history and directs the honors program at the College of New Rochelle?  (Some of you may remember her from part 24 of our “So What Can You Do With a History Major? series).

Amy is not in Sochi for the Olympics this year (or at least she does not seem to be–I could be wrong), but she has shared her thoughts on the 2014 games at Slate. Here is a taste:

The people who demanded a boycott of Sochi can make a decent case, but they forget that the Olympics have never been a freezing of world politics, but, rather, an opportunity to cut through the horror with moments of greatness. It is critical to remember that alongside dazzling pageantry and stunning athletic spectacle, the Olympics have always provided insight, good and bad, into the world we live in. It is historically shortsighted to assume that Sochi is the most politically offensive and mosteconomically corrupt Olympic host with the scariest terrorist potential, because that grants reprieves to an awful lot of countries and leaders (hello, Hitler!) and removes Sochi from the broad landscape that makes the Olympics the complex, horrible, elitist, and wonderful global event that sparks debate, awareness, and, sometimes, action.
Inherently contradictory, the Olympics get to transcend everything until they don’t. It is naive to think that sport is above politics, that any kind of level playing field exists, or that sport allows the world to put its problems on hold. The narrative of peaceful competition is disrupted time and again, because the Olympics are inherently political, in ways that are overt, such as the black power protest by Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City in 1968, and nuanced, such as Czech gymnast Vera Cáslavská lowering her gaze when the Soviet anthem playedduring her medal ceremonies at the same Games.
The example of Smith and Carlos is often cited in the lead-up to Sochi, as many observers wonder what athletes might do to protest Russia’s hateful homophobic policies. But Sochi deserves a more thorough context. Not since Berlin in 1936—“Hitler’s Games”—have the Olympics been such a one-man show.

1932 Lake Placid Ice Rink Renovation

I learned today from the good folks at New York History that the facade of the Lake Placid Olympic Center’s 1932 rink is undergoing renovations.

Here is the announcement:

Renovation to the facade of the Lake Placid Olympic Center’s 1932 rink is underway. The contractors, J.T. Erectors, are restoring the structure to its original appearance in the 1930’s. Some of the work includes the installation of windows that have been enclosed by brink since prior to the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.

The revitalization project is being financed through the remaining funds from a grant through Empire State Development, which funded the construction of the newly completed Conference Center at Lake Placid. Building a conversion of this size is no simply matter, only the best get to work on prestigious works such as this.

When complete the 1932 facility, along with its conventional use for skating and hockey and akin to the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena, will join the conference center to provide nearly 100,000 square feet of convention space. The fresh look will complement the conference center, which opened for business May 2011.

I don’t know all the politics behind this renovation, but I was attracted to the story largely because one of the first things I ever published was the article on the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics in the Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement.  (I also wrote the 1980 Lake Placid article, but they replaced it in the second edition by a piece written by someone who knew a whole lot more about Lake Placid than I did).

Why Doesn’t the U.S. Olympic Team Lower the Flag?

I am sure Amy Bass knew this, but I did not.  During the opening ceremonies, the United States is the only country whose Olympic team does not dip its flag when passing the box containing the leaders of the host nation.  The tradition–a clear manifestation of American exceptionalism–goes back to 1908.

David Wharton explains it all at the LA Times.  Here is a taste:

Most Olympic teams briefly lower their colors as a sign of respect when they march past the box where the host nation’s leaders are seated. The U.S. does not.

When the Americans pick a flag bearer for the 2012 London Olympics this week, he or she almost certainly will be advised to uphold a tradition that dates back more than a century.

According to popular legend, shotputter Ralph Rose set the tone at the 1908 Summer Games — also held in London — when he supposedly proclaimed: “This flag dips for no earthly king.”

To the rest of the world, it seemed like blatant nationalism. The truth of the matter, and the history of America’s refusal to dip, is far more complicated than that.

I wonder if this non-dipping practice will have any deeper resonance this year.  After all, the Olympics are in England!  You know–1776 and all that.