Home Field Advantage: Games in Boston Could Boost US Medals
By Katie Peverada
BU News Service
Boston is home to eight World Series titles, six Stanley Cups, four Super Bowls, 17 NBA Championships and multiple national collegiate championships. Every year, thousands of elite athletes bring their talents to the streets, rivers, ice and playing surfaces of the city in some of the most well known events in sports such as the Boston Marathon and the Head of the Charles Regatta. Boston is arguably known in American history as much for its sports as firing the first shot in the American Revolution, yet some residents don’t want anything to do with hosting one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
In January, the United States Olympic Committee chose Boston to be the bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. As of now, the other cities in contention to host the games include Rome, Hamburg and Paris. Opponents’ fears about bringing the games to Boston have a one in four chance of coming true in 2017, when the International Olympic Committee selects the host nation.
As the debate continues, there’s one bonus that opponents may not be aware of: It’s no secret that competing in a domestic Olympics increases the medal count for the host nation.
“Part of that has to do with the familiarity and ease of the athletes, where they don’t have a lot of inconvenience that they have to deal with traveling in a foreign country,” said Dr. Jim Bauman, the head sports psychologist at the University of Virginia and former Senior Sports Psychologist at the United States Training Center. Bauman believes that removing the logistical hurdles for an athlete, like having a familiar language or time zone or familiar food, creates an atmosphere more conducive to success than competing in a venue away from home.
“You remove all of those things and you really get to minimize what an athlete might worry about as they get set to compete,” Bauman said.
The U.S. has held the Summer Olympics four times, and each time they won the medal count. In St. Louis in 1904, the U.S. won 239 medals and runner-up Germany only 13. The 1932 games in Los Angeles saw the U.S. win 103 to second place Italy’s 36, and the 1984 games in Los Angeles saw 174 U.S. medals trump Romania’s 53. In Atlanta’s 1996 Summer Games, the U.S. had 101 and Russia’s 63 was second most. Simply put, it’s home field advantage on a large stage, but not just for the logistical reasons.
Jimmy Pedro, a native of Danvers, competed in judo at four Olympic Games and won two bronze medals, including in Atlanta, and also coached the U.S. judo team in London. When he competed in Barcelona in 1992, Sydney in 2002 and Athens in 2004, he found a different atmosphere. While the crowd wasn’t necessarily against him overseas, competing in front of the American fans in the U.S. provided something extra.
“In Australia, there’s very few Americans that make it all the way to Australia to root you on, but when it was in Atlanta it was awesome and it was something that I’ll never forget,” Pedro said.
Bauman said that it’s not like an American professional championship where the crowd is split in allegiance.
“If your Olympic city is in Boston, you know nearly 100 percent of that crowd is going to be the U.S., and there will be total support from the whole country, not like the Stanley Cup where it’s 50-50,” Bauman said.
And that crowd can be a very powerful incentive for an athlete.
“During the match the crowd can lift you to a whole other level,” Pedro said. “How could you not fight well when everybody is cheering for you and rooting you on? It’s just really an electric atmosphere.”
It’s hard to imagine that Bostonians are trying to be un-American. Some just don’t want the 2024 games to happen in this American city because hosting the Olympic Games is expensive and Boston isn’t a city with great infrastructure.
A lot of development may need to happen here in order to pull off the Summer Games. The public transportation system – the oldest in the country that is already subject to daily delays – would need a serious makeover. Several venues, including ones for swimming and biking, would need to be built. All of that costs money, usually taxpayer money. Some residents don’t believe that the $4.5 billion cost estimate put forth by the bid group called Boston 2024 Partnership, will remain at that cost.
A recent poll conducted by WBUR found that only 40 percent of registered voters in the Boston area are in support of holding the games here. That number was up from 36 percent in March. Among the concerns is the cost. It took upwards of $20 billion to put on the 2012 games in London and $50 billion in Sochi last year.
Dan Walsh, who rowed to a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing after serving as an alternate in 2004, understands where the people are coming from. Walsh, a graduate of Northeastern University, was skeptical when he was first approached about Boston 2024, as he couldn’t picture them taking place here. However, he now works with the Boston 2024 Partnership and believes the games could be successful.
“I do feel like some of those initial concerns are just,” Walsh said, “But [opponents] need to stop thinking about what the immediate problems are of the Olympic bid and what the possibilities of the Olympic bid could bring to Boston.”
If Boston hosts in 2024, even if taxpayer dollars are spent, the Commonwealth could benefit before, during and after hosting the games. Walsh pointed at success in Munich in 1972 and London where the rowing facilities are still used today by multiple groups. Teams and the public could benefit from not only using the venues before the games, but they could also benefit from the changes to infrastructure around the city, leaving it in better condition than before the games.
One of the things Walsh sees the Olympic Games bringing to Boston is a global humanitarian effort through sport.
“It’s something that brings together countries, different religions, races, beliefs, and it brings them underneath this umbrella of peace and celebration for sport, not just the competition part,” Walsh said.
“The bid really seems like it’s trying to leave Boston [better] than they found it and that’s why I got behind it, and that’s why I think other athletes [will] get behind it,” he added.
Walsh has experienced rowing in Boston and thinks it would prove to be even better if the Olympics were to come here.
“It’s definitely an electrical charge that you get. I can imagine that only being magnified when a sport like rowing is on the world stage in the Boston and Commonwealth area,” Walsh said.
“I think Boston fans are fanatics, very passionate about sports…as an athlete it would have been a dream come true for me to compete in the Olympics in Boston,” Pedro said, adding that he thinks the city could pull off an amazing Olympics.
Walsh agrees that Bostonians stand to benefit as spectators of this world-class event. “In general the city is a sports town and they’re going to get to watch the world championships of almost every other sport in Boston,” Walsh said.
And within those raucous crowds, he feels, might be the people that stand to gain the most from a Boston Olympics and its subsequent legacy.
“Something that we can see the Olympics start to do for sports in Boston is trickling down to the 10-year-olds and 5-year-olds today that would [become] Olympians and Olympic hopefuls. To me it’s worth the investment in the Olympics to inspire a generation of greatness.”