"To understand Brundage is to realize why the Olympic Games may
well go on long after the 'religion of Olympism' has become a
mockery," writes Guttmann in the over-reaching, hyped-up preface
here. But, if this biography/history hybrid fails in its sporadic
attempts at psycho-social interpretation, it does provide generous
chunks of Olympics background - while giving equal emphasis to the
pros and cons of Brundage's Olympics philosophy. Son of a
stonecutter, young Avery studied engineering but excelled most in
sports. ("One need not be a believer in Freudian psychoanalysis to
suspect that Brundage recognized in childhood that sports,
especially individual sports like track and field, are a paradigm
of objective achievement.") He lost to Jim Thorpe in the 1912
Olympics pentathlon; while succeeding in the construction business,
he became increasingly involved in amateur-sports-sponsorship. As
president of the American Olympic Committee in the 1930s, he
battled for US participation at the Berlin Games of '36 - an ugly
battle that turned him "into an anti-Semite" but helped boost him
to leadership of the International Olympic Committee. His "fanatic"
commitment to the Olympic movement - not politics - was the
decisive factor, too, in his 1940s isolationism ("the traumatic
fear that a prolonged war might destroy forever" the Games). And
throughout, while recording Brundage's many rigid stands, Guttmann
sees him primarily as an idealist, at worst a Don Quixote. Here,
then, are the constant attempts to resist professionalism,
commercialism, nationalism, politicization. Here, also, are the
postwar wrangles with two Germanys, two Chinas, Soviet pressures,
internal challenges, expanding Olympic grandeur (Brundage opposed
it), new sports (ditto), the involvement of women (his opposition
"has been exaggerated"). As for the crisis over South African
apartheid, Guttmann understands Brundage's purely a-political
viewpoint - but "he was utterly unsympathetic to the argument that
sports are an implicit affirmation of the political and economic
status quo." And his "games must go on" speech after the Munich
tragedy is presented in a generally noble light - though here, as
elsewhere, a faint stab at psycho-biography falls fiat. ("TO have
stopped the games would have been to have lest the dream.") Weak as
interpretive life-history, then, especially when bringing in
sketchy data about Brundage's illegitimate sons - but a
well-researched source of back-room IOC history, sometimes
numbingly detailed, sometimes firmly fascinating. (Kirkus Reviews)
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