COVID-19 is just the last crisis in Olympic history


Last month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government announced that the Tokyo 2020 Games would be postponed to July 23, 2021, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This is clearly the right call. But maybe you, like me, are still in shock at the loss of something we have been looking forward to for years.

However, four recent books remind us of other times when the Olympics overcame global crises and survived dark times during its 124-year history. There were of course the World Wars that resulted in the cancellation of three Games. But it continued during the Great Depression, terrorist attacks and, most recently, a rogue regime threatening to use a nuclear bomb. So while you’re sheltering without sports for the foreseeable future, try one of these readings to put that moment in historical perspective.

The moment an Olympic hockey team helped mitigate a nuclear threat

Olympic books
((Photo: Courtesy of Hanover Square Press)

The Olympic Games are often as much politics as sport. This was certainly true for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, which helped ease tensions between South Korea and North Korea, even if the organizers feared that the latter could test a nuclear weapon during the competition. In the midst of this geopolitical chess match was the very first Korean female ice hockey team. South Korea initially proposed the idea as a symbolic gesture to ease the tension on the Korean peninsula. Kim Jong Un eventually joined and a team of 23 South Koreans and 12 North Koreans was created. In A full-fledged team: how an international brotherhood made Olympic history, Seth Berkman, sports contributor to the New york times, reveals the fascinating backdrop. “Everyone on the team has a story that is worth sharing,” he said. Outside.

The ups and downs that led to the unified team are particularly captivating. In 2013, South Korean officials sent mysterious emails to recruit Canadian and American college students who looked Korean in their directories. As a result, five North Americans of Korean origin joined the list, which at that time consisted only of South Koreans. And the players came not only from different countries but from all walks of life: they were students, actresses, convenience stores. They got closer as they prepared for the Olympics, but four weeks before their first game in Pyeongchang, they discovered that 12 North Koreans would join the team. In the end, everyone developed a special connection through training sessions, K-pop songs, Big Macs and ice creams.

Although the group did not win any games, it was not a loss. Their teamwork has overcome cultural, societal and political challenges to make history. And the Olympics helped bring Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table, which, at least for a while, gave hope for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

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The time an ex-cop saved thousands of bombs at the Olympics

Olympic books
((Photo: Courtesy Abrams)

The Atlanta bombing of the 1996 Summer Games was the worst Olympic terrorist attack since the Munich massacre in 1972. Yet, until last year’s Hollywood film, most people forgot Richard Jewell, the heroic security guard who spotted the bomb and prevented further calamity. In The suspect: an Olympic bombing, the FBI, the media and Richard Jewell, the man caught in the middle, Kent Alexander, an American lawyer for the northern district of Georgia at the time of the 1996 Olympics, and Kevin Salwen, a seasoned reporter, take us back to the eighth night of these Atlanta Games.

At Centennial Park, Jewell, a former unlucky cop who became a hypervigilant guard, spotted a bag thrown near thousands of spectators watching a concert. It was a bomb. He helped evacuate the crowd, but it was too late to save everyone. It exploded. Two people died and 111 were injured. In the days that followed, newspapers and television stations around the world praised Jewell as a hero. Everything went south, however, once an FBI agent fled to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Jewell was a suspect in the attack. Law enforcement finally cleared him after three months of investigations, but during this time television crews in vans and helicopters followed Jewell and his family, speculating that he was the suicide bomber. In 2003, the real author, an American by the name of Eric Rudolph, was captured and confessed not only to the Olympic bombing, but also to three other anti-abortion and anti-gay terrorist attacks in the South. Yet even today, some people continue to think that Jewell is guilty.

Alexander and Salwen conducted 187 interviews and sifted through 90,000 pages of material over five years while researching history. They concluded that the Jewell episode was, as they write The suspect, “Convenient for the police who caught his suspect. Convenient for media that have had its history. Convenient for Olympic organizers who could advance the Games with fans and athletes who believe the bomber was safely cornered. It was convenient for everyone except Richard Jewell himself. False information is spreading widely, shaping public opinion and dragging law enforcement in the wrong direction. After that, it was difficult for the suspect to recover his life and his reputation. In an interview with NPR, Salwen says the story is “a story of social media from a time when social media did not exist. “

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The time when the Olympics arrived in America during the Great Depression

Olympic books
((Photo: Courtesy of University of California Press)

Los Angeles has Billy Garland to thank for putting it on the map: the real estate tycoon brought the Olympics to that city in 1932, helping him become the cultural capital of the world it is today. However, most people in Southern California have probably never heard of him. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barry Siegel brings his incredible story to life Dreamers and schemers: how an unlikely offer for the 1932 Olympics transformed Los Angeles from Dusty Outpost into a global metropolis.

At the turn of the century, automobiles were a rare sight in the underdeveloped city, and the orchards of fig trees covered what was to become the Hollywood Hills. The film industry only began to take root in the following decade, and in 1920 three-quarters of the world’s films were made around Los Angeles. But when the European IOC establishment began looking for the host for the 1932 Games, Los Angeles was still not on its radar. Garland decided to change this. Dreamers and schemers uses extensive archival material, including letters exchanged between Garland and Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, to recount Garland’s unlikely effort to bring the world’s largest sporting event to the City of Angels.

Some document-rich sections are progressing slowly, but the book expresses the incredible amount of ambition and confidence it took to convince European representatives of the IOC and the Californians themselves that the Olympics should come to Los Angeles. Garland pushed the state government to issue a million dollar bond, then called Hollywood and local newspapers to cheer up the accommodation, even as the Great Depression rocked the country. He endured police corruption and political scandals to produce a successful Olympics, showcasing Los Angeles to the world. “Billy Garland’s story is the story of Los Angeles,” writes Siegel. And this is not an exaggeration.

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The moment a group of African American athletes challenged racism and fascism to compete in the Olympics

Olympic books
((Photo: Courtesy Atria)

In general, the world only remembers one black athlete from the famous 1936 Berlin Olympics – Jesse Owens. But in Olympic pride, American prejudice: the untold story of 18 African-Americans who challenged Jim Crow and Adolf Hitler to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, based on a documentary of the same name, director Deborah Riley Draper and author Travis Thrasher tell the story of 17 other African American athletes who participated in the Games.

Their presence and victories in Berlin dealt a blow to racial prejudice on both sides of the Atlantic, and the book, although sometimes dispersed, explores their fascinating stories. The athletes pushed through unfair and rigorous trials to represent a country that considered them second-class citizens at the Olympics organized by a fascist country. In some ways, Nazi Germany treated them better than the Jim Crow South. Owens and his African American fellow athletes were greeted with applause and respect from competitors and spectators, and they all stayed in an integrated Olympic village. Then they challenged the Nazi regime’s ideas of Aryan superiority by winning 14 medals, including seven gold, in athletics and boxing.

“It wasn’t just Jesse. Other African American athletes in the midst of Nazi Germany watched by Adolf Hitler lied about the notion of racial superiority, “write Draper and Thrasher. The sporting excellence demonstrated by the group foreshadowed Hitler’s defeat in Germany and, at home, was a forerunner of the civil rights movement.

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Main photo: Imagno / Getty

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