The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports

Michael Waters

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Book cover for The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports
Book cover for The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports

The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports

The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports

Michael Waters

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"Michael Waters performs an Olympian act of storytelling, using the stories of these extraordinary athletes to explore in brilliant detail the struggle for understanding and equality." --Jonathan Eig, author of King: A Life

The story of the early trans athletes and Olympic bureaucrats who lit the flame for today's culture wars.

In December 1935, Zdeněk Koubek, one of the most famous sprinters in European women's sports, declared he was now living as a man. Around the same time, the celebrated British field athlete Mark Weston, also assigned female at birth, announced that he, too, was a man. Periodicals and radio programs across the world carried the news; both became global celebrities. A few decades later, they were all but forgotten. And in the wake of their transitions, what could have been a push toward equality became instead, through a confluence of bureaucracy, war, and sheer happenstance, the exact opposite: the now all-too-familiar panic around trans, intersex, and gender nonconforming athletes.

In The Other Olympians, Michael Waters uncovers, for the first time, the gripping true stories of Koubek, Weston, and other pioneering trans and intersex athletes from their era. With dogged research and cinematic flair, Waters also tracks how International Olympic Committee members ignored Nazi Germany's atrocities in order to pull off the Berlin Games, a partnership that ultimately influenced the IOC's nearly century-long obsession with surveilling and cataloging gender.

Immersive and revelatory, The Other Olympians is a groundbreaking, hidden-in-the-archives marvel, an inspiring call for equality, and an essential contribution toward understanding the contemporary culture wars over gender in sports.

About the Author

Michael Waters has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Wired, Slate, and Vox, among other publications. He was the 2021-2022 New York Public Library Martin Duberman Visiting Scholar in LGBTQ studies and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Critical Reviews

"A deftly written and engrossing book that shows how sport has always been a lightning rod for society's worst instincts about how to treat trans people." --Charles Arrowsmith, The Washington Post

"Waters traces this history thoughtfully, and meticulously, revealing how much about this recent and relevant past we have forgotten, or never knew." --The New Yorker

"Cinematic . . . Today, the conversation about trans athletes has taken center stage, and Water's subjects feel more relevant than ever." --Adam Rathe, Town & Country

"A fascinating and, oftentimes, frustrating exploration of how we got to where we are in both the sports and gender debate and the limitation of trans rights in general . . . Waters's cinematic and wonderfully animated storytelling helps present a world of possibility open to us so long as we're willing to keep challenging the mandates of the status quo." --Stef Rubino, Autostraddle

"Fascinating . . . an important dive in to the archives." --Michelle Hart, Electric Literature

"[A] revelatory debut investigation . . . Waters's propulsive storytelling is bursting with insight, especially into the lives of trans men during the interwar period. It's an eye-opening look at how fascist philosophy undergirds gender regulatory regimes in sports." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A significant deep dive into the queer historical evolution and significance of transgender athletes in organized sports . . . Densely factual, impeccably researched, and written with dramatic flair, this book intensively probes gender bias in the Olympics amid the rise of European midcentury fascism and the epic challenges to gender essentialism." --Kirkus

"Sports buffs and historians will enjoy his deeply researched book." --Booklist

"A riveting and important work of history. Michael Waters performs an Olympian act of storytelling, using the stories of these extraordinary athletes to explore in brilliant detail the struggle for understanding and equality. The Other Olympians is a book of great originality, deeply researched and beautifully written." --Jonathan Eig, author of King: A Life

"Michael Waters masterfully puts into focus the long-overlooked, yet remarkable stories of a cadre of Olympians who battled for their right to compete on the world's biggest stage as their true selves. A crucial read for anyone interested in the intersection of sports, identity, and social justice." --Neal Bascomb, author of The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It

"A remarkable and compelling chronicle of a forgotten episode in both the history of sport and the history of gender that demonstrates their centrality in the Nazis' rise to power." --Drew Gilpin Faust, author of Necessary Trouble

"The 1936 Berlin Olympics take center stage in Michaels Waters' fascinating, erudite account of the lives and careers of acclaimed athletes who challenged the conventional boundaries between men and women, decades before 'transgender' became a flashpoint in contemporary social struggles. He charts a clash of ideologies over how to regulate gender in international women's sporting events--and beyond--that still animates headlines today." --Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History: The Roots of Today's Revolution

"The Other Olympians is a stunning addition to queer and sports history, an inspiring and cinematic account of perseverance, identity, activism, and, ultimately, joy. Michael Waters has achieved what all great historians aim to do: changing our understanding of the present by illuminating the hidden stories of the past." --Eric Cervini, author of The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America

"Michael Waters's account of queer athletes caught up in the global drama of 'Hitler's Olympics, ' and its overlapping fanaticisms of racial and gender purity, feels as remote as a folk tale and as familiar as today's Title IX battles. This is first-rate history--impressively researched and captivatingly told." --Sam Tanenhaus, author of Whitaker Chambers: A Biography

"Deeply researched and evocatively written, Michael Waters's The Other Olympians impressively interweaves the lives of early 20th century trans and gender non-conforming athletes with the history of the modern Olympics, the rise of European mid-century fascism, and our complicated - and often nonsensical - attempts to define and regulate sex, gender, and the multitudinous human body. The Other Olympians adds crucial prehistory to understanding our modern thinking on gender and athletics." --Hugh Ryan, author of The Women's House of Detention and When Brooklyn Was Queer

"Michael Waters has written a book that should revolutionize the way we think about sport and gender. By examining the history of the gender-diverse athletes who have always competed--as well as the systems that have tried to limit their participation--The Other Olympians is as relevant today as it would have been during the events it chronicles nearly a century ago. In showing us our history, we will perhaps not be doomed to repeat it. The Other Olympians is a warning; let us heed it." --Frankie de la Cretaz, coauthor of Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women's Football League

Publishing Information

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pub date: 2024-06-04
Length: 368 pages
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