Leif Yttergren, Hans Bolling, eds. The 1912 Stockholm Olympics: Essays on the Competitions, the People, the City. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers, 2012. 292 pp. $55.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-7131-7.
Reviewed by Daniella Nahmias (Princeton University)
Published on H-SAE (April, 2013)
Commissioned by Michael B. Munnik
Beyond Sunshine: The 1912 Stockholm Olympics
The 1912 Stockholm Olympics went off without a hitch in perfect weather, earning the name “The Sunshine Olympics.” Separating the Olympic Games from World Exhibitions, the success of the 1912 games helped the Olympics weather World War I and become what they are today, one hundred years later. In The 1912 Stockholm Olympics, coeditors Leif Yttergren and Hans Bolling, as well as eight other authors, describe various aspects of the 1912 Olympic Games, from advertising to press coverage, from training athletes to entertaining spectators, from athletic to art competitions. The chapters give a varied and comprehensive introduction to the 1912 Olympic Games and the extensive archive they left behind.
The book is a (sometimes uneven) English translation from Swedish, and the volume betrays its origins with a heavy emphasis on the Swedish aspects of the Olympics, focusing on the Swedish organizers rather than those of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and almost entirely ignoring non-Swedish athletes. Yttergren and Bolling also acknowledge in their introduction that the essays can be sprawling and repetitive due to the book’s attempt to be comprehensive. Indeed, the volume’s strength lies in individual chapters. While the book is not divided into parts, this review will address the chapters in terms of three themes: the organization of the Olympics, including advertising and entertainment; the Swedish participants and the results of the games; and the reaction of spectators, the media, and the IOC.
The 1912 Stockholm Olympics have gone down in history as an organizational success, and many of the chapters describe how this happened. The essays examine the financing and marketing of the games, planned entertainment, art competitions, organization of the athletic events, and organization of the overall games. Together, they strikingly show nascent forms of today’s Olympic organizational practices before they became ritualized. From negotiations to get the state to help finance the games to co-branding the Olympics with travel agencies, new economic and marketing practices were being developed. Even the international rules for athletics were in the process of being formalized.
Unfortunately, only Per Andersson and Hans Kjellberg’s chapter on marketing makes strong comparisons to current practices, while the other essays leave readers to consider on their own the way the organizational practices of the 1912 Olympics relate to those of subsequent or current games. How new was the practice of giving a restaurant exclusive rights to catering the Olympics? If military men were the core of the Swedish Organizing Committee, how did that compare to the organizing committees in other countries? If the art competitions were unsuccessful in drawing either participants or an audience, why did they continue until 1952? The essays in this collection provide few answers that would place the Stockholm Olympics in a wider context.
While the first set of chapters focuses on the organization of the games, the second set provides a portrait of the Swedish athletes and the results of the games. These chapters are most useful for scholars interested in particular data from the Olympic Games. Together, Yttergren, Bolling, and Ingermar Ekholm’s “Counts and Draymen: The Swedish Participants” and Bolling and Yttergren’s “Gender and Class: Women on the Swedish Squad” point to the age, geographical origin, and class of both the men and women on the Swedish team. Ekholm’s “The Results of the Competitions: The 1912 Olympic Games in Numbers” reports the results of every event.
The last set of chapters moves from a focus on the people and organization of the games to how people received them. These essays go beyond the success of the Stockholm Olympics as well organized (if not widely attended) to highlight their importance both in instilling Swedish national pride and in solidifying the Olympic movement. In “Spectators at the Stockholm Games,” for instance, Mats Hellsprong describes how the act of being a spectator helped to foster nationalistic support and a new interest in sports among Stockholmers. The organized cheering of the US and Canadian spectators inspired a new Swedish national cheering tradition, while the euphoria of the games created national feeling during a conflicted time.
Jan Lindroth’s chapter “‘A New Experience in Life’: The Olympics and General Debate in the Swedish Daily Press” shows how this nationalistic euphoria spread to the media and politics. In fact, the Olympic Games not only instilled national pride but also made it acceptable. While Social Democratic organizations, with their emphasis on internationalism, usually dismissed nationalism, the Olympic Games led Social Democrats to show support of nationalism in their newspapers. Of course, Social Democrats did not always support the Olympics and their militaristic undertones; yet Lindroth emphasizes how the games caught the imagination of the national media, from the Left to the Right.
While Lindroth’s chapter best situates the 1912 Olympic Games in terms of the Swedish political context of the time, Ansgar Molzberger’s “Patriotic Games as a Breakthrough for the Olympic Movement” puts the 1912 games in the context of the Olympic movement. The Stockholm Olympics pushed the IOC to reorganize and take more responsibility for the games. Molzeberger describes how the Swedish organizers pushed the IOC to make rules about which sports were included in the Olympic program, as well as to create the International Amateur Athletics Federation, which guaranteed the development of international rules and regulations for athletic events. Together, these changes resulted in a massive reorganization of the Olympics, underlying the need for international planning. As Molzeberger emphasizes, “had the 1912 Olympic Games not been staged as such a festive ‘Complete Work of Art,’ the subsequent forced interruption caused by the First World War could have spelled the demise of the Olympic Games” (p. 217).
In summary, this book offers a multifaceted description of the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. While the book as a whole is vital for scholars trying to understand the evolution of the Olympic movement from its nebulous beginnings to the phenomenon it is today, for most scholars, individual chapters will be most useful--whether one is interested in event marketing, the evolution of athletics, the evolution of cheering, or Swedish nationalism.
as an event in its own right (rather than auxiliary to
the organization it is
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Daniella Nahmias. Review of Yttergren, Leif; Hans Bolling; eds., The 1912 Stockholm Olympics: Essays on the Competitions, the People, the City.
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