Friday: A look at why California has long been a dominant athletic and cultural force at the Games.,
The ‘Californization’ of the Olympics
Friday: A look at why California has long been a dominant athletic and cultural force at the Games.
The skateboarder Nyjah Huston from Davis is one of the many Olympians from the Golden State.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: If California were its own country, it would rank fifth in an Olympic medal count.
Dr. Bill Mallon, who had recently landed in Tokyo when I reached him by phone this week, couldn’t say for sure whether that was true. But, he told me, the state would rank “almost certainly in the top 10.”
What he could say for sure was that, in terms of producing Olympians, California’s universities are at the top of the list. As of about 2012, Mallon said, Stanford had sent 289 American athletes to the Games, the most of any school. That was followed by 277 from U.C.L.A., 251 from the University of Southern California and 212 from U.C. Berkeley.
He had me guess the fifth-place university. I couldn’t, but it was Harvard. “They produce a lot of rowers,” Mallon said.
In other words, even before skateboarding and surfing were added to the Games, which have their opening ceremony today, the Golden State was a robust presence at the Olympics — a testament, Mallon said, to the state’s ideal weather for year-round training, its large population and the existence of a kind of snowball effect for athletes at top universities. (Athletic success begets more success.)
But the “Californization” of the Olympics dates all the way back to the 1920s, according to Mark Dyreson, a professor at Penn State who specializes in the history of sport.
In a 2013 paper, Dyreson wrote that it was a very intentional strategy by the government, sports promoters and corporate entrepreneurs.
“During the 1920s, American economic and cultural power began a westward shift,” he wrote. While New York and Washington were still the nation’s centers of finance and government, “Los Angeles operated as the core of the nation’s burgeoning lifestyle industry.” That included fashion, celebrities, tourist sites and recreation.
California dominated in Olympic swimming pool construction, “and swimming pools became symbols of both American affluence and American power,” Dyreson wrote.
By the time Los Angeles hosted the 1932 Olympics, California had come to represent to the world a vision of American affluence, of a good life — one that would ultimately remain out of reach for most.
The debuts of skateboarding and surfing at the Games this year, Dyreson told me in an email, reinforce this pattern.
No matter their historical origins (in the case of surfing, that’s in Hawaii, not California), action sports have tended to “take off when they get sucked into the California cultural production industry and transformed into ‘lifestyles’ complete with clothing lines, iconographic narratives and liberal doses of California ‘cool,'” Dyreson wrote.
Thus, the sports are extensions of American — and specifically Californian — consumerism delivered to the world via the “mega-spectacle” that is the Olympics.
Neftalie Williams, a postdoctoral scholar at U.S.C. and a visiting fellow at the Yale Schwarzman Center who studies skateboarding culture, had a more generous assessment. The inclusion of skateboarding in the Olympics signals recognition for athletes of diverse backgrounds who have been marginalized and criminalized, he told me.
“It makes you think about the fact that here are Olympians that can get arrested skating down the street,” he told me. “No one’s getting arrested playing water polo.”
Unlike athletes in other sports, elite skateboarders aren’t siloed from the rest of the community, which means young skaters can engage at whatever level they want. So representation at the Olympic level has a different kind of resonance.
Williams acknowledged concerns that skateboarding in the Olympics represents a kind of mainstreaming and commercialization of a sport “born in the streets” with a countercultural ethos. But for now, including skaters in the Olympics is a way of giving the sport’s progressivism and creativity a bigger platform, he said.
“All institutions need to change,” Williams said. “My question is: What are you going to do?”
Team U.S.A. women’s soccer forward Megan Rapinoe is from Redding.Credit…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Times
Read about why — after bidding scandals, human rights abuses, rampant cheating and a pandemic-driven delay — many are questioning whether the Olympics should go on at all.
By contrast, Lindsay Crouse wrote in an Opinion essay that she’d be watching the Olympics: “The appeal of the Games has never really been the Olympics as an institution; it’s the Olympians themselves.”
The Tokyo Olympics are surfing’s big debut. The question is whether the waves will cooperate.
See all of The Times’s Tokyo Olympics coverage here.
Let The Los Angeles Times help you get to know Nyjah Huston, a California skateboarding phenom and now Olympian.
Read about how, as skateboarding has become more popular in Japan, it has also become more restricted.
Read more about Neftalie Williams’s research and how skateboarding can help fight racism.
Summer Olympics Essentials
Olympics Guide: It’s been an unusual lead-up to this year’s Olympics. Here’s what you need to know about the Games.Athletes: These are the competitors you’ll be hearing a lot about. Pick a few to cheer for!Sports: New sports this year include karate, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing. Here’s how every Olympic sport works.Schedule: Mark your calendars for your favorite events to watch.
Here’s what else to know today
Credit…Source: Earth System Research Laboratories, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Compiled by Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley
A map, based on modeling from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, illustrates how smoke from wildfires in the West and central Canada traveled across the country to reach the East Coast.
California’s recall election for Gov. Gavin Newsom has 46 candidates vying to replace him, as confirmed by Secretary of State Shirley Weber on Wednesday. Five more candidates have been added since Saturday, including the talk show host Larry Elder, who had to be reinstated after winning a court case regarding his tax returns, according to Politico.
The University of California approved a 4.2 percent tuition increase despite pushback from students and years of debate, The Los Angeles Times reports. The increase will apply only to incoming undergraduate classes and will remain stabilized for the class for six years, according to the university’s president, Dr. Michael V. Drake.
In a plea deal, John T. Earnest admitted to killing a woman and injuring three others at Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego on the last day of Passover in 2019. He has agreed to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
According to SFGate, the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance — a group of more than 500 bar owners in the city — is considering whether to require vaccine cards for entry at its members’ bars across the city, as the Delta variant drives a new surge of Covid-19 cases.
Two extreme weather experts believe that the world record for the hottest temperature in history, which was achieved in 1913 in Death Valley, Calif., at 134 degrees Fahrenheit, was a meteorological impossibility. But dismissing weather records is difficult, and the Death Valley reading is still recognized.
And finally …
Alan Cruz runs A’s BBQ out of his home in East Los Angeles.Credit…Adam Amengual for The New York Times
So what defines California barbecue? That, my colleague Tejal Rao wrote recently, has been harder to answer.
But whether it’s classic Santa Maria tri-tip or smoked pork belly char siu handed off in a Rosemead parking lot, Cochinita Pibil in East Los Angeles or West Oakland hot links, there’s one thing that unites the ever-evolving barbecue of the Golden State: It’s delicious.
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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.