In this class, Associate Professor of Health and Human Performance Carol Smith discusses how there is more to the Olympic games than athletic competition and national pride.
By Kyle Lubinsky ’17
For many countries, participating in the Summer Olympics is a source of national pride. But there is more to the games than just athletic competition. For the upcoming games in Brazil, there are bragging rights at stake for the first South American country to host the international event. But reports of water pollution near Olympic venues and the recent Zika virus outbreak—not to mention the country’s unstable political situation—have raised safety concerns for the athletes. Some nations are even threatening not to participate. There is also the issue of financing the event in times of economic austerity.
Carol Smith, associate professor of health and human performance, looks at these and other complexities that surround this world event as part of “Modern Summer Olympic Games.” The class incorporates the philosophy, history and economics of the games. A wide variety of writing assignments, including short, informational papers and longer research papers, help students gain a comprehensive understanding of the Olympics. The classroom portion of the course is discussion-based. This format allows for all students to talk and contribute to the class, Smith says, while giving them more ownership and a greater commitment to learning about the topic.
In order to get the full picture, students consider the significance of global events taking place around the time of the games. For example, students must complete a paper about the 1936 Olympics in Germany and reflect on events at the time, such as having legendary athlete Jesse Owens, an African American, compete during a period when Adolf Hitler was gaining power and preparing for World War II.
Smith’s interest in the Olympics drives her to continue teaching the class. The high level of competition and stories behind the athletes also compel her. “I love the Olympics. Most people do,” says Smith. “It is ever evolving, and there are many ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories of multiple athletes, not just Usain Bolt or Tyson Gay, but athletes many of the general population might not know.”
While many students who take Smith’s class have competed in athletics at some point in their lives, they come from a variety of majors. They find common ground, however, in their love for the Olympics. Whatever their interest, Smith hopes they all gain a better appreciation for the games and develop a deeper understanding of all the complex issues that the event entails. “I really hope students will learn more about what makes the Olympics, the Olympics,” says Smith. “For instance, what about the athlete who has the chance to represent his or her country at the games, but realistically might not have any chance for a medal? [It’s] so much more than just the athletes striving for greatness.”
About the professor
Carol Smith joined the Elon faculty in 1999. She teaches in the Department of Health and Human Performance and serves as the coordinator of the adventure-based learning minor. Her research interests involve adventure-based learning and how it impacts students, including retention rates of first-year students, leadership characteristics, moral reasoning and locus of control.
- “Chariots of Fire” film
- “The First Olympics: Athens 1896” television series
- “Rome 1960: The Olympics that Changed the World” by David Maraniss