Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Resistance, Persistence, Providence: The 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games in Perspective

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Resistance, Persistence, Providence: The 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games in Perspective

Article excerpt

On the afternoon of 30 July 1932, the City of Los Angeles opened the Games of the Tenth Olympiad. This festival, in the eyes of many historians, came the closest to reflecting Baron Pierre de Coubertin's vision of peace, joy, and unity through sport. Some 105,000 spectators, the largest opening ceremony crowd in Olympic history, sat in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to watch the ceremonial events unfold.(1) Legions of athletes - almost 2,000 of them from 40 nations - marched into the stadium that day. Sixteen days later, another capacity crowd witnessed the closing ceremonies that ended the grand athletic spectacle. The impression of one spectator, the wife of a future International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, captures the spirit of that occasion:

One hundred and five thousand people stood breathless! The call of the trumpets was answered by the mixed choir, 350 voices singing the Hawaiian "Farewell and Welcome Again." The entire public arose. Slowly the flag bearers marched out, disappearing under the Tribune, lowering their flags as they went. The gigantic Olympic flag followed, carried parallel to the ground by six men.(2) The plaintive Hawaiian music continued. The audience stood there spellbound. Few eyes were dry. Wherever one looked one saw tears rolling down the cheeks of man, woman and child. So moved we were, that few of us observed the Olympic torch die out. One lingered and was loathe to leave the Stadium, this place of beauty and harmony where 40 nations had felt the joy of brotherhood of man. Had it been in one of the World's great cathedrals, the last moments of that impressive ceremony could hardly have been filled with greater "uplift" or been a more devout prayer to God to help his children to come nearer international understanding that brings final Peace on Earth.(3)

Coubertin was not present. Had he been, he most certainly would have been ecstatic and, under the circumstances of the decade previous to the Olympic Games, probably quite amazed as well. Few aside from the Baron fully realized the obstacles that the Games' organizers had overcome to produce "the finest of all Olympic Games," a watershed event in sustaining the modern Olympic Movement.

The pathway leading to the lighting of the flame in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was beset by a matrix of impeding problems. This essay examines some of the most vexing of them. The following are key dimensions of consideration: (1) the winning of the bid by Los Angeles to host the Olympic Games; (2) the disastrous turn of events which nearly led the Los Angeles Organizing Committee to return the Olympic Games to International Olympic authorities; (3) the awesome funding challenges associated with this endeavor; and (4) the apprehension of many that the Games would end up being little more than a local and regional sports attraction. In dealing with the aforementioned issues, this essay attempts to place in perspective the chief contributions that the Games of the Tenth Olympiad "gave" to the Olympic Movement and to future Olympic Games. In addition, this essay argues that the Olympic Village, a creation of the Los Angeles Games, preserved Olympism, the modern Olympic Movement's operational philosophy and raison d'etre.


Having witnessed five relatively successful Olympic Games between 1896 and 1912, Coubertin had little doubt that the Games awarded to Berlin in 1916 would continue the trend. This hope was dashed by events of World War I, which caused the 1916 Olympic festival to be canceled, despite attempts by various American cities to bring the Olympic Games to a safe haven in North America. Coubertin resisted those suggestions from American Olympic officials, electing instead to cancel the Games of the Sixth Olympiad altogether and to press forward with a plan to reestablish the quadrennial festival after the cessation of hostilities in Europe.(4)

Following the Great War's armistice in November 1918, Coubertin began organizing the IOC's first postwar meeting in Lausanne in April 1919. …

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