The media often puts their own spin on the news in order to make a statement or point of some sort. After reading Chapter 5 of David Epstein’s The Sports Gene, it is apparent that this can be traced back all the way to the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam (Epstein, 59-60). After the women’s 800m run in 1928, John Tunis of the New York Evening Post reported, “Below us on the cinder path were 11 wretched women, 5 of whom dropped out before the finish, while 5 collapsed after reaching the tape.” This reporting caused the International Olympic Committee to keep the 800m off the program until 1960. It was interesting that a simple news article was able to create this kind of power and able to change the Olympic Games.
I researched more about this specific race and came across this article (here), which reported the actual facts of that race. Roger Robinson, a senior writer for The Running Times, describes the race in detail, noting that there were actually only 9 runners in the race, as opposed to the 11 originally reported. Only one of them fell, and not from exhaustion, but instead because she was leaning forward to try to lean forward to beat her competitor. A photo of the winner was captured, Germany’s Lina (Karoline) Radke-Batschauer, in which she shows no signs of exhaustion. According to Robinson, not only was this race false reported in the New York Evening Post, but in other newspapers as well. For example, newspapers said that women’s reproductive capability impaired by such “terrible exhaustion.” England’s Daily Mail affirmed that women who raced longer than 200m would age prematurely.
The fact that these reports were able to convince the IOC that the women’s 800m should no longer be a part of the Olympic Games shows what kind of influence the media has on our culture. It banned the 800m for over 30 years, simply because these reporters thought that women couldn’t handle such a race. Even in 1967, when the first woman ran in the Boston Marathon, she received a lot of criticism and disbelief, with people saying that there was slim to no chance that she would be able to win (read more about her experience here). It is shocking that people’s opinions can influence the rules of sporting event so drastically. Today, with social media, this problem is even more prevalent than before. Opinions are publicized from many different parties, not only confusing people, but sometimes distributing incorrect information. When discussing the issue of nature versus nurture when it comes to athleticism, it is important to consider how the media has influenced opinions in the past and present, as it can cause some serious misconceptions.
Epstein, David J. The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. 2014.
Robinson, Roger. “‘Eleven Wretched Women.’” Runner’s World, 16 May 2017, www.runnersworld.com/running-times-info/eleven-wretched-women.
Switzer, Kathrine. “Boston, 1967: When Marathons Were Just for Men.” BBC News, 16 Apr. 2012, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17632029.
I was also intrigued by the mention of the “Eleven Wretched Women.” I thought it sounded ridiculous, and I wasn’t surprised to find out that the media had gotten the facts wrong. It seems unbelievable that the 800m was removed from the Olympics because of the news report, because I’m so used to the idea of fact-checking. I agree that social media has such a big impact on our modern society, but most people also know not to believe everything they read or hear because of the prevalence of “fake news.”
These are all definitely valid points, and you’re research definitely proves that excessive media distortion delayed the progression of female athletics. However do you think it would have prevented the phenomenon noted in ‘The Sports Gene’, in which female athletic records grew exponentially over the last century in comparison to their male counterparts? Do you think the plateau effect described in ‘Sports Gene’ might not have existed? Or would have reporting of the event, and keeping the event in place only brought the onset of it sooner?