Studying the Olympic Games

students standing on a running trackJust how important are the Olympic Games?  How do they help and hinder their host cities?  What legacies do the Olympics leave behind?  During the fall 2015 semester, Dr. Ryan Swanson and four Honors students visited a series of archives looking to answer such questions.  Francesca Foley, Jaime Miguel McCarthy, Joe Debonis, and Emily Marcelja traveled with Professor Swanson to the archives of the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs.  Then they journeyed on to St. Louis, the host city of the 1904 Olympic Games.  For 5 days the group scoured different repositories in order to find the key primary documents uncovering what the Olympics meant, especially to the city of St. Louis.  And more than just collecting and analyzing documents, the group walked the former sites of the long-gone Olympic Games in order to understand the architectural footprint that remains.  Using the spatial tool “Siftr” on their Honors College issued Ipads (thanks Dr. Holden!), the students laid current images over historical maps. 

After an intense week of research, the group the spent the bulk of the fall semester working on independent research projects derived from the sources they uncovered.  Francesca created a mobile game to help visitors to St. Louis understand the impact of the Olympic Games.  Jaime compared St. Louis’ games to those more recently held in Beijing.  Joe considered why we forget the 1904 Games; what are we hiding?  Finally Emily, an elementary education major, investigated the evolution of coaching.  And Professor Swanson put the sources gained in Colorado Spring and St. Louis to use in a book on sports at the turn of the century that he is working on.  So you might say it was a “gold medal” trip.  The bounty of research produced by the trip was gratifying to all involved.   

Photo: On the track, at Francis Field, where the 1904 Olympic Games were held.