3 QUESTIONS TO DAVID WALLECHINSKY
Who were the founders of the ISOH, why WAS it created and how do the members in the network collaborate?
Inspired by Bill Mallon and Ture Widlund, seven enthusiasts met in a pub in London on 5 December 1991 and formally founded the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH). In addition to Mallon and Widlund, those present at the meeting were Ian Buchanan, Peter Matthews, Stan Greenberg, Ove Karlsson and me. Our goal was to explore and spread information about all aspects of Olympic history. We felt that what was particularly missing was an emphasis on Olympic athletes themselves, without whom, after all, there would be no Olympics. ISOH was accepted as a recognized organization of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1996. Three times a year, we publish the Journal of Olympic History. Currently under the direction of Volker Kluge, the Journal often highlights different themes. For example, prior to the Rio de Janeiro Games of 2016, we included several articles relating to Brazil’s historical connection with the Olympic Movement. In honour of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, we will call attention to Korean Olympic history.
The ISOH web site includes 313 articles about Olympic history, searchable by country, sport, name, year or author.
Tell us about one of the most fascinating topics that Olympic Historians recently discovered?
Like detectives, we are inspired and challenged by difficult cases. For us, one of the most intriguing is the identity of the youngest Olympic champion, who is presumed to be a boy of about seven to ten years old when he served as the coxswain for the winning Dutch team in the coxed pairs event at the 1900 Paris Games. In 1960, Dutch Olympic historian Tony Bijkerk unearthed a photograph taken after the race showing rowers François Brandt and Roelof Klein with the small boy standing between them. In a 1926 article, Brandt described the child as a French boy who was a member a local rowing club in Paris. For decades, Olympic historians have circulated this photo, assuming that someone would recognize the boy as their grandfather or great-grandfather. But this never happened. Then, in 2014, a Georgian member of ISOH, Paata Natsvlishvili, presented the argument that the boy was in fact a 12-year-old Georgian named Giorgi Nikoladze. Altough Natsvlishvili’s dossier is appealing, it is speculative, and the mystery remains.
What are the most interesting and unknown periods and personalities that would deserve further research?
We believe that 133,772 athletes have competed in the Olympic Games since they were revived in 1896. Each of these men and women has a story, whether or not they earned medals. What is exciting for us, as Olympic historians, is that among these stories, most of which are hidden from the general public, are many that are worth exploring and sharing.
The Olympic Games that have been most difficult to research are those of 1900 and 1920 because they were not as well-covered as other Games and they did not have professional quality Official Reports. I believe that there are several topics which deserve more research for use by future scholars. These include what we call “technological doping”, meaning the legal advantages that athletes from wealthy countries have over those from poorer countries; the transition from amateur to professional athletes and the changing definitions of these two terms; and the various ways in which sponsorships and television have influenced the development of the Olympics and how they are presented to the public.