Performance Anxiety: Olympics in Hard Times
The 1932 Los Angeles Olympics under the shadow of the Great Depression
The Tokyo Olympics kicked off under a cloud of controversy and global crisis we’d all hoped would have passed by now. Taking place under another global crisis, the Great Depression, Los Angeles’s 1932 Olympics can kind of relate.
You know it’s a tough time for the games when there’s only one bidder, which is exactly how L.A. earned the right to host the Olympiad. As the sole city to bid on hosting, Los Angeles’ default selection was less than a triumph, but these images from NHM’s Seaver Center capture an ebullient crowd nonetheless. Conspicuously not in attendance: President Hoover.
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As only the 10th modern Olympiad, 1932 caught the games at a crossroads. Abandoned aspects like the cultural competitions which saw countries compete in the arts (specifically in the categories of sculpture, painting, literature, architecture, and music) as well as in sports. Women’s gymnastics competitions were completely absent without official explanation or comment, despite debuting four years earlier.
Some staples of the modern games would make their debut at L.A.’s first Olympics. Smoky the Scottish Terrier became the Olympics' very first mascot. The first Olympic Village was erected in Baldwin Hills, at least for male athletes. Female athletes stayed at the Chapman Park Hotel.
However you’re feeling about this year’s games, their continuation points to a future when we’ll have moved past our current crisis, and come together as a global community. Who knows what athletic achievements will go into the record books by then, but one record is locked in: the Coliseum will be the only stadium to host three times.
Read the successful and only bid for the Xth Olympiad below and check out the Seaver Center's Digital Collections for more 2D L.A. history.