The history of the 100-metre sprint serves as the point of departure for an exploration of the symbolic meaning athletes have acquired for large groups of people. The platform provided by the Olympic Games enables athletes to become the ultimate representatives of their nation, origins, beliefs, ideology, gender or sexual orientation. Certainly, as the Olympic Games attracted ever more media attention throughout the 20th century, the 100-metre sprint, like no other event, came to focus attention on the position of the individual sportsman and sportswoman as role model.
A vast amount of research material was collected during the preparation of 51 Sprints. Some of it, such as the images of 51 successive finals, could be included in one of the five narratives straight away. But, a lot of background research could not be included in the final product. All this material will be brought together in this magazine, which tracks the making of the web documentary.
Idealistic motives brought the modern Olympic Games into being. Starting from the notion of universal human equality, sport was supposed to contribute to international fraternity. Yet, the participants in the 1896 Games were exclusively white men from the elites of a small number of industrialised countries. There was no place for women, the working classes or non-whites. The spectators were equally select.
This image has since changed dramatically, in part due to the growing influence of the media. There are now more participating national Olympic Committees in the world than there are nations. The entire population of the world has been represented in one way or another at the Olympic Games. The Games’ symbolic value has consequently grown significantly. More and more new groups of spectators are able to identify with the achievements of the athletes.
This effect was recently amplified with the arrival of new media, which have significantly widened the platforms on which athletes can present themselves and thus shape their identities as role models.
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