Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About The 1960 Olympics
David Maraniss has somehow found to a way to encapsulate all of the political, emotional, and historical events that occurred around the 1960 Olympics in Rome…and all without making us roll our eyes or doze off.
He really masterfully captures the significance of exactly how many things drastically changed that year. And we mean drastically.
While focusing on the eighteen days that constituted the Summer Olympics that year, Maraniss offers not only biographies of several significant athletes—decathlete Rafer Johnson, marathoner Abebe Bikila, sprinter Wilma Rudolph, and the boxer Cassius Clay a.k.a. Muhammad Ali—but he also puts the games into context in terms of political and historical significance.
He talks about what it means to have the games televised for the first time, for the first sponsored athletes (who up until then were purely "amateurs"), and for the United States to have a Black man, Rafer Johnson, carry the flag at the opening ceremonies to present a different front to the world than the reality that saw so much civil unrest back home.
He touches on the importance of East and West Germany competing together for the last time before the rise of the Berlin Wall, the effect the Cold War had on tensions amongst competitors, and the accomplishments of women and Black people who were only then starting to "emerge from generations of discrimination".
All of these factors not only impacted the 1960 Games, but all the Olympic games that have followed since. The political, social, and monetary issues of contention all came to a head during this fateful summer, and changed the Olympics as we know them forever.
After all, what would the Olympics be like without the women's soccer team wearing Nike, without Black athletes competing on the same level (or better than) their white counterparts, and women running more than one lap around the track?
They'd be boring, prejudiced, and not nearly as much fun.