The Olympics and Philosophy

The Olympics and Philosophy

Heather L. Reid
Michael W. Austin
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 308
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Olympics and Philosophy
    Book Description:

    It is said the champions of the ancient Olympic Games received a crown of olive leaves, symbolizing a divine blessing from Nike, the winged goddess of victory. While the mythology of the ancient games has come to exemplify the highest political, religious, community, and individual ideals of the time, the modern Olympic Games, by comparison, are widely known as an international, bi-annual sporting event where champions have the potential to earn not only glory for their country, but lucrative endorsement deals and the perks of worldwide fame. The Olympics and Philosophy examines the Olympic Movement from a variety of theoretical perspectives to uncover the connection between athleticism and philosophy for a deeper appreciation of the Olympic Pillars of Sport, Environment, and Culture.

    While today's Olympic champions are neither blessed by the gods nor rewarded with wreaths of olive, the original spirit and ancient ideals of the Olympic Movement endure in its modern embodiment. Editors Heather L. Reid and Michael W. Austin have assembled a team of international scholars to explore topics such as the concept of excellence, ethics, doping, gender, and race. Interweaving ancient and modern Olympic traditions, The Olympics and Philosophy considers the philosophical implications of the Games' intersection with historical events and modern controversy in a unique analysis of tradition and the future of the Olympiad.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3650-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-6)

    Philosophy and the Olympic Games not only share an origin in ancient Greece; the modern Olympics are the first and perhaps the only sports movement explicitly guided by a “philosophy of life.” This philosophy of life is known as Olympism. The Fundamental Principles of Olympism, which are articulated in the Olympic Charter, guide the movement’s values and aims, including its commitment to international cooperation and peace. The symbolism of the Olympic rings communicates the Olympic philosophy: each ring represents one of the five continents, and the colors represent all of the national flags of the world. The interlocking rings on...

  4. Part 1. The Ideal Olympian
      (pp. 9-22)
      Michael W. Austin

      What does it mean to be great? For the Olympic athlete, winning a gold medal seems like the most obvious answer. Or perhaps winning numerous gold medals, setting world records, and putting together a long and consistently excellent athletic career are what constitute true greatness. There is no doubt a form of greatness in such achievements, but I believe that a greatness of truly Olympic proportions includes more than mere athletic excellence. The truly great Olympians also display moral excellence. In this chapter I briefly consider Aristotle’s views about moral excellence and then take a look at some examples of...

      (pp. 23-34)
      Raymond Angelo Belliotti

      What was he doing? Prior to a preliminary heat in the 200-meter dash competition at the 1972 Munich Olympics, a contestant appeared to be undressing in the middle of the track. Mercifully, he never reached full nudity. Stripped down to his athletic supporter, Pietro Mennea, known in Italy asFreccia del Sud(“The Southern Arrow”), needed to change his running shorts. A sprinter has to do what a sprinter has to do.

      Mennea hailed from Barletta, in Southern Italy. This accident of birth accounted for half his nickname. The other half flowed from his speed and style. Lean and wiry,...

      (pp. 35-46)
      Scott F. Parker

      Steve Prefontaine (Pre) qualified for the 1972 Munich Olympics in the 5K. At age twenty-one, Pre was young for that distance. The 5K, usually dominated by men in their late twenties and early thirties, is considered a thinking man’s race, not a race for cocky and impetuous boys, qualities Pre had in spades. And if his age and disposition weren’t disadvantage enough, his competitors had more international experience; Pre had run mostly against other collegiate athletes while winning several national titles at the University of Oregon. Additionally, his competitors were pampered in their countries. They were given cushy jobs so...

  5. Part 2. Ancient Heritage
    • THE OLYMPICS OF THE MIND: Philosophy and Athletics in the Ancient Greek World
      (pp. 49-67)
      Paul A. Cantor and Peter Hufnagel

      The ancient Greeks were the most competitive people in history. As a profound student of the Hellenic world, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—a classical scholar by profession—devotes his essay “Homer’s Contest” to detailing the many ways in which the ancient Greeks, above all the Athenians, loved to engage in combat, both literal and metaphorical. Even the art of drama in Athens took the form of civic contests, in which tragedians like Aeschylus and Sophocles competed against each other for prizes. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that the ancient Greeks invented athletic competition as we know...

    • GO TELL THE SPARTANS: Honor, Courage, and Excellence in the Ancient Olympic Games
      (pp. 68-85)
      Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza

      Fragments from a recently discovered ancient Greek play,Olympia, have puzzled experts, who can’t agree even on the genre (tragedy? comedy? first tragicomedy?). Worse, a number of anachronisms suggest textual corruption. Pertinent excerpts supplement our text.

      Dramatis Personae.

      Aristodemus: Spartan warrior

      Brundy Average: former IOC president¹

      Nastasius: Persian sympathizer of Greek stock

      Cyniska: Spartan princess

      Chorus of Thespians

      Location: Hades (twenty-first-century life makes it look like a Copacabana resort). Absurdly, Brundy Average and Aristodemus strike up a chat to kill time where eternity is but the beginning of an endless supply of ennui.

      Brundy Average(“Average” hereafter): Greetings, my good...

    • THE SOUL OF AN OLYMPIAN: Olympism and the Ancient Philosophical Ideal of Aretē
      (pp. 86-98)
      Heather L. Reid

      What was it like to be an ancient Olympic athlete? A visit to the ancient stadium at Nemea, site of another Pan-Hellenic athletic festival, can help us to imagine the experience. You begin at the ruins of theapodyterion, literally the “undressing room,” where athletes removed their clothes in preparation for their events—and a favorite setting for Socrates’ spiritual undressing of Athenian youth. Like the otherworldly Greek sanctuaries themselves, theapodyterionwas a place to shed your attachment to the mundane world of the everyday, to prepare to reveal and celebrate the higher dimensions of your humanity. Next you...

  6. Part 3. Modern Ideals
    • MORE THAN GAMES: Olympism as a Moral Approach to Sport
      (pp. 101-116)
      Douglas W. McLaughlin and Cesar R. Torres

      The modern Olympic Games have dramatically increased in scope and significance since their inception in 1896. More than just a sporting festival, the Games are imbued with a complex philosophical vision that entails ethical principles. Pierre de Coubertin, the chief founder of the modern Games, called this philosophical vision “Olympism,” and his elaboration of it not only influenced the Games’ growth but also identified the rich social and ethical grounds of the Olympic movement. When the Olympic Games are approached as merely sporting championships, however, the significance of the Olympic movement and its inspiring ideals are neither fully understood nor...

      (pp. 117-132)
      Milan Hosta

      Sport as a manifestation of popular culture is among the effects of globalization, a driving force that dictates our everyday existence. Every four years, the eyes of the world turn to a spectacle beyond compare: the Olympic Games. For any state worth its name, it is not to be missed; a sporting festival that has grown in political, economic, social, and environmental significance—a truly important cultural phenomenon.

      It is no coincidence that such a “banal” thing as sport attracts so much attention. Pierre de Coubertin devoted much of his time and many writings to asserting the culture of sport...

      (pp. 133-146)
      Jeffrey P. Fry

      Imagine that you have just been transported through time to an Olympic Games in the not-too-distant future. You arrive at an athletic venue as three women are ascending a victors’ stand, where they will be festooned with gold, silver, and bronze medals, respectively. Soon you realize that these Olympic Games have a new twist. Medals are being awarded in these Games not only for athletic excellence, but for moral excellence as well. Indeed, the three women in question are being recognized for their morally virtuous performances. These awards go hand in hand with a recently revised Olympic motto, which was...

  7. Part 4. Ethical Issues
      (pp. 149-160)
      Stephen Kershnar

      In this chapter, I discuss whether the International Olympic Committee (IOC) may, and perhaps should, permit athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). I begin by discussing the concept of a PED and then briefly review the Olympic rules prohibiting their use. I then discuss the three main arguments against PEDs, specifically that permitting their use endangers the athletes who use them, harms competitors, or makes the competition unfair. I conclude that these arguments fail and that the ban on PEDs, if justified, rests on utilitarian considerations (for example, audience preferences or protecting children).

      PEDs are not well defined. In general,...

    • OLYMPIC BOXING: A Not So Sweet Science
      (pp. 161-174)
      Joseph D. Lewandowski

      At one level, Olympic athletes are simply individuals who compete for a prize.¹ Of course, the kind of competition athletes engage in is not arbitrary or haphazard. Rather, in Olympic sports, as in all competitive sports, athletes vie with one another within the context of jointly shared constraints that enable and limit their actions in various ways. Without the 3-point line in basketball, for example, there can be no 3-point shots and no creativity or excellence in 3-point shooting. In everyday conversation we call such soft constraints “rules,” and action in adherence to a set of rules constitutes for us...

    • SHOULD THE OLYMPICS BE THE VERY BEST? A Plea on Behalf of the Second-Rate
      (pp. 175-190)
      Regan Reitsma

      The Olympic motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger” evokes vivid images of athletic striving.¹ A champion sprinter straining to shave off another hundredth of a second from his own world-record time; a world-class high jumper contorting her body to scale a yet greater height; a weight lifter—veins bulging, cheeks puffed—exerting every ounce of his being to squat as much as the reigning gold medalist he is competing against. This wonderfully redolent triad’s use of comparatives—faster, higher, stronger— seems at one and the same time to describe the intensity and internal drive of Olympic athletes and to urge these very...

  8. Part 5. Race and Gender Issues
    • THE STRONG MEN KEEP A COMIN’ ON: African American Sports Participation and the Discourse of Public Dissent
      (pp. 193-213)
      Pellom McDaniels III

      For African Americans, 1968 was one hell of a year. On February 17 the Black Panther Party’s Huey P. Newton was arrested after a gun battle in West Oakland, California, which resulted in the death of a white police officer, John Frey. On April 4 the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. And on October 16 at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos shook up the world when they used their victories in the 200-meter dash as a platform to...

    • OLYMPIC AMAZONS AND THE COLD WAR: The Rise and Fall of Gender Radicalism
      (pp. 214-227)
      Kutte Jönsson

      During the Cold War, athletic performances were also political statements. But that was then. For every year that passes since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the memories from that time seem to become more and more blurred. Of course, there are those who simply do not want to remember, who just want to forget and even erase that period from the collective memory.

      If we agree that Cold War sports were political in their essence, we may also interpret this fact from different angles. The most obvious interpretation is to say that Cold War sports manifested the...

    • BUNS OF GOLD, SILVER, BRONZE: The State of Olympic Women’s Beach Volleyball
      (pp. 228-242)
      Charlene Weaving

      Significant media hype surrounded the uniform regulations inflicted upon beach volleyball players at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the discussions were variously critical, supportive, and, in some instances, mocking in nature. Over a decade later, it is worthy to examine the issue in further detail to analyze the lasting negative implications that the uniform rule created.

      The main purpose of this chapter is to examine women’s positioning within the modern Olympic movement in the twenty-first century. I argue that in attempting to cling to both the spirit of just peace and Olympism and the goal of constant improvement described in...

  9. Part 6. Political Power
      (pp. 245-255)
      Charles Taliaferro and Michel Le Gall

      In the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December of 1979, the administration of President Jimmy Carter decided to boycott the Moscow summer games of 1980. That decision was hotly debated. Some athletes bemoaned the fact that their apolitical athletic interests were being subjected to political constraints. Politicians from both sides of the aisle supported Carter, while others criticized his apparent belief that the careers of these young men and women were expendable for reasons of state.

      When should a nation or individual athletes boycott the Olympic Games? Consider some of the following reasons that might justify an...

      (pp. 256-272)
      Alun R. Hardman and Hywel Iorwerth

      The nation-swapping athlete has become an increasingly common, and enduring, phenomenon of Olympic history. The ancient Olympic Games were restricted to free Greeks; but later Romans, Egyptians, and other foreigners also competed. In addition, during the Hellenistic period, it was common for the best athletes to trade their talents to the highest-paying city-state. Greek politicians and rulers saw sport as “a successful means of legitimizing their position of power,” particularly “if their worthiness to rule could not be constitutionally proved” (Hardy 1977, 6).

      Since the end of the cold war, the phenomenon of nation swapping in sport has been on...

    • SHARING THE MOMENT: On the Olympic Games as Spectacle
      (pp. 273-286)
      Matthew Sharpe

      This chapter is largely on the Olympics and the philosophy of art. The topic might seem unlikely, compared with other contributions to this volume. It is easy enough to envisage philosophical reflections on the ethics of the Olympics, their political significance, or their history . . . but the philosophy of art? The philosophy of art or, as it is called in modern times, “aesthetics,” is one of the more refined species of academic reflection. Yet the Olympics are a massive, mass-cultural event, as well as big business, big politics, and big money. Worlds divide the ivory tower and its...

  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 287-292)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 293-296)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-298)