Sport, script and biography, 1900-2000

Sports biographies are an important source for analyzing changing cultural discourse on athletes. They both produce and reflect meanings attached to sport, athletes and success or failure. This research aimed at illuminating the altering constructions of sport lives and, consequently, of sport as a changing cultural ideal during the twentieth century. The research’ primary focus is on the chronological development of the sports biographical genre. In the 1920s and 1930s, sports became an honourable ideal to pursue in life, for young men in particular. Not surprisingly, the first full-length biographies documenting an athlete’s life were published during these decades. The life of speed skater and cyclist Jaap Eden was the first (1928) in a series of biographies and life stories. In studying these biographies I dissect which themes played a role and which ideals were contributed to the athletes and relate them to broader developments and changing discourse, like shifting gender patterns, fading boundaries between the public and the private, and the emergence of celebrity culture. Second, this analysis of the collective level of sports biographies is complemented with case studies on individual athletes. What continuities and discontinuities van be discerned in the image-making pertaining to Jaap Eden, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Johan Cruijff and other sports stars? They all have been frequently biographied over time, yet these biographies highlight different aspects, motives and thus both reflect and produce new meanings.

Supervisor: Marjet Derks

Researcher: Aad Haverkamp

Start: 2014