The Olympics

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Anyone whose curiosity about the rituals, procedures and formalities of the summer Olympics was piqued by the recent events in Barcelona will find interest in Allen Guttmann’s thorough, knowledgeable account of the origins and arguments surrounding every element of the contests and pageantry.

Guttmann begins with the premise that politics, rather than constituting an occasional intrusion into the athletic realm, is the essential generating force behind the entire Olympic movement, and that to understand both the athletes and their effect on the nations they purport to represent, one must understand the history of the evolving spectacle that so totally captures public attention. Beginning with French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who initiated the Olympic revival in Athens in 1896, Guttmann shows how a series of often arrogant, bickering social figures developed the Olympic concept as a conjunction of idealism (world peace), brotherhood (athletic fraternity), rampant nationalism, commercialism, and religion.

The issues that still plague the competition are deftly examined, as Guttmann shows that as early as 1900, questions concerning women’s participation, genuine amateurism, and excessive chauvinism were already being debated, while such important features of the Olympic aura as the slogan about “taking part” (de Coubertin quoting an American prelate in 1908), the motto (“Citius, Altius, Fortius...Faster, Higher, Stronger,”...

(The entire section is 416 words.)