Professor explores impact of stadiums and Olympics in two new books

University Park, Pa. — Two recently published books co-edited by Mark Dyreson, associate professor of kinesiology, explore the role of sport in shaping cultures. "The Rise of Stadiums in the Modern United States: Cathedrals of Sport" examines the history of and perceptions surrounding several stadiums built (or planned to be built) in the United States, and "Olympic Legacies: Intended and Unintended" explores how the Olympics have changed cities across the world -- and how those cities have changed the Olympics. Both books are part of Routledge’s Sport in the Global Society series.

"The Rise of Stadiums in the Modern United States: Cathedrals of Sport"

"The Rise of Stadiums," co-edited by Dyreson and Robert Trumpbour, associate professor of communications at Penn State Altoona, and featuring an article by Ronald A. Smith, professor emeritus of exercise and sport science, fills a gap in the literature surrounding sport history by providing a “detailed excavation of the specific places and spaces where Americans took their sport” -- in short, the cathedrals of sport. That very term brings to mind the borderline-religious devotion fans, athletes, and cultures have toward pouring money and attention into sports.

In his article, “If We Build It Will They Come? The Plans for a National Stadium and American Olympic Desires,” Dyreson explores the political debates in the early 20th century over whether or not the United States should create a national sports stadium in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the stadium would be to “host American championships and international spectacles,” such as the Olympics, writes Dyreson. Those in favor of a national stadium believed that, if they built a stadium, “fans, fame and fortune” from neighboring cities and countries would come. They also felt it would be a “testament to US athletic prowess.”

From 1912 to 1932, numerous attempts to build a national stadium in the country’s capital were made -- including one attempt by Ulysses Grant III, grandson of the famous president and Civil War general, and an effort in the late 1920s to as an attempt to usurp the 1932 Olympics from Los Angeles. The attempts were all unsuccessful, which is apparent by the fact that the United States still does not have a national stadium. However, Dyreson’s article, as well as others in "The Rise of Stadiums," underscore just how powerful and influential sports can be.

The book features articles on stadiums in Stanford, Calif.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Chicago, Ill.,; and Cleveland, Ohio, among other cities.

"Olympic Legacies: Intended and Unintended"

Attempts to steal the 1932 Olympics from Los Angeles were unsuccessful, much to the benefit of Los Angeles. Those and the 1984 Olympics, both hosted by Los Angeles, were crucial to the development of modern image of both Los Angeles and the Olympics. In their article “Los Angeles is the Olympic City: Legacies of the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games,” from "Olympic Legacies," Dyreson and his co-author Matthew Llewellyn, a graduate student in Kinesiology at Penn State, argue that Los Angeles is more identified with the Olympics than any city that has hosted the games.

Finances posed major threats to each set of games -- the 1932 games took place in the depths of the Great Depression and the Olympics preceding 1984 left cities such as Montreal and Mexico City in financial ruin. As a result, Los Angeles was the only city to bid on either set of games. In doing this, Los Angeles sought to prove to the world that the games could still be profitable. And, for the most part, Los Angeles succeeded in this. Not only did Los Angeles show other cities that the Olympics were worth their time, but it also “set the standard for future hosts,” write the authors.

Los Angeles boosted its own image by portraying itself in marketing and advertising as a “vibrant, modern metropolis characterized by ethnic and racial harmony,” write the authors. “During the games, palm trees swayed in Pacific breezes, traffic flowed, Angeleños celebrated, and the urban infrastructure flowed smoothly. Whether or not these images matched everyday Los Angeles realities matter little. The world witnessed a city that worked, producing an unparalleled marketing opportunity.”

The authors note other examples that support their argument of Los Angeles being “the” Olympic city. The city created an organization that has lobbied every year since its creation in 1932 to host the Olympics again in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum still stands as the only stadium where two Olympic games were hosted, which creates a lasting legacy for the city.

Other articles in the book, written by a cast of international contributors, focus on how the Olympics affected cities such as Athens, Greece; Seoul, South Korea; Beijing, China; and Sydney, Australia.

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Last Updated February 05, 2010