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Sport in the USSR

Physical Culture--Visual Culture

Sports played a vital role in the social and cultural life of the former Soviet Union.
The Soviet state sponsored countless programs to promote sporting activities, even constructing a new term, fizkultura, to describe sports culture. 

With Sport in the USSR, Mike O’Mahony asserts that the popular image of fizkultura was as dependent on its presentation as it was on its actual practice. Images of vigorous Soviet sportsmen and women were constantly evoked in literature, film, and folk songs; they frequently appeared on the badges and medals of various work associations and even on plates and teapots. Several major artists, in fact, made their careers out of vivid representations of sports. 

O’Mahony further examines the role that fizkultura played in the formulation of the novyi chelovek, or Soviet New Person, arguing that these images of the sporting life not only promoted the existence of this national being but also articulated the process of transformation that could bring him or her into existence. Fizkultura, O’Mahony claims,became a civic duty alongside state labor drives and military service. 

Sport in the USSR is a fascinating addition to current debates in the fields of sociology, popular culture, and Russian history.

224 pages | 10 color plates, 90 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Picturing History

Art: European Art

History: European History

Sport and Recreation

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"The very topic of this unusual publication can give pleasure to most scholars in Slavic studies and beyond. . . . . A stimulating study full of valuable information and insightful observations. . . . the book fills a gap but also leaves room for further research of this neglected topic in Slavic studies."

Irina Makoveeva | The Russian Review

"A welcome addition . . . It is also a particularly interesting work because the author chooses to examine the subject through the lens of art history, arguing quite convincingly that the various changes in sport imagery throughout the Soviet era are a reflection of larger ideological shifts."

Canadian Journal of History

"No summary of contents, however, can do justice to O’Mahony’s knowledgable and wide-ranging study. It’s real strength lies in the author’s ability to provide a continuous historical correlation between the production of cultural artifacts and the articulation of state policies across the decades of state power. . . . Sport in the USSR is an excellent study whose value extends far beyond its modest title. It is as relevant to cultural anthropologists as to social historians, historians of art, literary scholars, urban planners, and (forgive the word) jocks."

Vladmir Padunov | Slavic and East European Journal

"Original and intelligent. . . . This is a work that commands readers’ attention because it goes to the heart of the contradictions within the Soviet project. . . . Worthy of the attention of all students of the Soviet experience."

Robert Edelman | Slavic Review

"A fascinating look at social and Soviet history."


Table of Contents

1.  Visualizing Fizkultura
2.  Sporting Icons
3.  Participants and Spectators
4.  Going Underground
5.  The Last Line of Defense
6.  Aiming for World Supremacy
7.  Towards the Bitter End
Select Bibliography
Photographic Acknowledgements

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