Study Guide

Avery Brundage (Rome 1960) in Olympics Books

By Various Authors

Avery Brundage (Rome 1960)

King of the Olympics

Although Rome 1960 covers more athletes, events, and topics than any of the other books combined, there is one person we'd like to focus on more than the exemplary athletes Maraniss outlines: Avery Brundage.


Brundage. Avery Brundage. You mean that name doesn't instantly ring a bell like Cassius Clay or Wilma Rudolph does?

Well, that's probably because he's not an athlete, or a coach, or anyone who was really ever in the spotlight the way those people were. Avery Brundage was the President of the International Olympic Committee for the 1960 Games. That's right: he was the head honcho of the whole shebang. The big cheese. The main man.

Why focus on this guy? Well, because he was the puppet master behind the scenes, orchestrating the Olympics and handling all of its accompanying controversies.

Stubborn, Much?

First: a little background. Brundage was not like all the previous IOC presidents, who typically were from the European upper-upper-classes. He'd actually had a really rough childhood, and had through sheer grit and tenacity rose in the business world as a construction superintendent while he continued to compete in track and field.

As his track career wound down, he started involving himself more in the administration aspect of sports, and he eventually worked his way up through those ranks as well.

By the time he was in charge of the contentious 1960 Olympics, Brundage had already earned himself a reputation as a somewhat polarizing figure in the amateur sports world. When others were calling for a boycott of the 1936 Olympics (because of the Nazis, natch), he actually did a brief inspection of German sports facilities and pronounced that Jewish athletes were being treated fairly and that the Games should go on as planned. (This proved to be a less-than-popular opinion.)

Throughout his career with the IOC he was immovable in his opinion that politics had no place in sport, and as an international competition, should be left out as much as possible. He once said, "The Olympic Games belong to the athletes and not to the politicians" and he felt the same way in 1960 as he did in 1936. (Source)

So, when he was elected President of the IOC in 1952, he faced no shortage of political issues: two Germanies, two Koreas, two Chinas, South Africa's Apartheid stance, and the Civil Rights movement that was gaining steam in the US.

Throughout his entire reign, though, he never seemed humbled by the expanse of dealing with such huge international conflicts. For example, when he got East and West Germany to compete in the games under one German banner, he crowed that "We have succeeded where the politicians could not." (Source)

In fact, because of the sheer scope of his influence over the Olympics he once wrote, "No monarch ever held sway over such a vast expanse of territory." (Rome 1960) Ego? Yeah. Diplomatic chops? Also: yeah.

Amateur Or Go Home

Another area that Brundage shook up like a Gogurt was in regards to the necessity of amateur status of all Olympic Athletes. This was a big deal to Brundage—one he was willing to take any level of criticism on.

According to him, people who competed and won for the love of sport itself epitomized the benefit of sport, and if you brought monetary gain into it everything would be ruined. He's got a point—but, we have to admit, it's totally unfair that just about everyone involved in sports back then made money…except for the athletes themselves.

And if they did go pro (Brundage's definition of "pro" being "ever earned any money for being an athlete") they were banned from the Olympics altogether.

(Fun little tidbit: in 1912, Brundage competed in the pentathlon and decathlon Olympic events, and finished sixth and sixteenth, respectively. That is, until fellow American Jim Thorpe was disqualified because the IOC had discovered he had played baseball for money, making him a pro athlete…so Brundage moved up one spot.)

So, despite popular opinion starting to sway in the opposite direction, Brundage stayed stubbornly resolute about the amateur status thing.

In a Sports Illustrated article published in 1956, he reveals that he understood his public perception as a villainous overlord, but maintained that he was simply a "misunderstood guardian of amateurism and the Olympic ideals, tasked with preserving the true spirit of the games while all around him seek to destroy it." (Source)

Okay; maybe he has a bit of a martyr complex, but it's clear that this guy was serious about the Olympic movement and his critical role as its guardian.