SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Book Review: David Maraniss' "Rome 1960"

Maraniss wrote very good biographies of Vince Lombardi and Roberto Clemente, and his addressing of this topic is premised by the subtext "The Olympics That Changed the World."

The book is well-researched and generally well-written. He writes from a number of different perspectives -- the Cold War (where the countries behind the curtain were using sports for propaganda purposes), the end of amateurism (and the hypocrisy and sometimes cruelty of the International Olympic Committee's enforcement of a very pure interpretation of "amateurism"), the juxtaposition of racism in the United States against the preeminence of certain athletes of color (most notably Wilma Rudolph, Rafer Johnson and a boxer named Cassius Clay), the emergence of performance-enhancing drugs (apparently the Soviets were having fun with biochemistry at about that time), and the ultimate realization that the Olympics could make a lot of money by selling TV rights (these Olympics were televised sparsely on tape delay featuring a former game-show host named Jim McKay as the studio host; McKay would go on to be the dean of Olympic sports reporting and a masterful announcer).

Maraniss focuses on the autocracy and hypocrisy of IOC chief Avery Brundage (whom venerated NYT sports columnist Red Smith thought was a jerk), the determination of Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila (who won the marathon running in the city of a country that had conquered his country decades before -- and who ran barefoot), the grace of a cadre of women runners called the Tigerbelles from Tennessee State University, the leadership and sportsmanship of the preeminent U.S. competitor, Rafer Johnson, in the decathlon against his college teammate and buddy C.K. Yang of Taiwan (Red Smith was quoted as denigrating the decathlon, in essence saying that you took a group of guys who could do nothing particularly well and then put them in a competition of 10 events and glorified it over 2 days), the questions about judged sports, the efforts of the Soviet Union, the hard-luck track experience of Duke medical student Dave Sime in the 100-meter dash and 4x100 relay (Sime later became a well-regarded eye doctor in Miami), the domination of the U.S. Olympic basketball team (men's), the end of chauvinism by allowing women to participate more widely, and many more dramas and subdramas.

This is another great book from Marannis, a very good read, and a good mix of political and social issues.

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