Submitting Institution

University of Cambridge

Unit of Assessment

Modern Languages and Linguistics

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

In this REF period, Christopher Young researched and published widely on the Olympic Games in twentieth-century Germany. Highlights of the impact of this research include: (i) Young's co- authored monograph was the principal reference for an exhibition on the 1972 Munich Olympics, which ran for 6 weeks in 2012 at Munich's main station; (ii) Young made a significant contribution as consultant to three of the six documentary programmes `Olympic Radio Ballads', which were broadcast on Radio 2 in the run-up to London 2012; (iii) Young's research was the basis of his April 2012 presentation at the Historian's Speaker Series at the Office of State in Washington.

Underpinning research

Christopher Young has been employed by the University of Cambridge since 1995, initially as a University Assistant Lecturer. Since 2012 he has been Professor of Modern and Medieval German Studies.

Young's research on the history of the Olympics in modern Germany began in 2003 and issued in The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany (co-authored with K. Schiller, University of Durham: the book was fully collaborative), which appeared with the University of California Press in 2010, and a total of 9 (mainly single-authored) journal articles and book chapters. The monograph is the first book-length treatment (and indeed virtually the first academic treatment overall) of one of the most famous Games in Olympic history. It was based on extensive archival research in Germany, Switzerland and the US and interviews with a number of key participants such as a surviving Israeli athlete (Dan Alon) and East German spy-master Markus Wolf.

This body of work addressed a wide range of themes: the complexities of Olympic financing in a federal state; urban planning at a time of demographic growth, increasing municipal demands and diminishing coffers; memory culture and `Vergangenheitsbewältigung'; architecture and design as contested symbols of a new Germany; the developing discourse of democratic participation and the various outgrowths of youth revolt in the 1960s; the long war of attrition for sporting recognition between the GDR and the FRG on the international scene; the security errors that led to the 1972 Olympic terrorist attack, and the complicated diplomatic fall-out that resulted from it. The insights that led most frequently to sustained impact effects were those that dealt with: the powerful role of sporting elites and the IOC as NGO over and above that of state and federal agencies; the complicity of the West German government in `bribing' African nations after decolonization with direct aid and gifts of sporting infrastructure; the paradox of the IOC's continued admiration in the 1960s for Berlin 1936 and the host nation's determined abhorrence of it; paradoxically, the conscious use of the 1936 blueprint by leading left liberal design elites in order to present a diametrically opposed vision of the new Germany; the important but often neglected influence of the 1945- rather than 1968-generation on the discourses of democracy and participation that helped cement German society in the 1960s and 1970s; the role of big business in Cold War Western allegiances, e.g. Krupp, which called on the legacy of 1936 to shore up its position in the present; the fact that, despite appearances, the Games hardly breathed the spirit of Ostpolitik — the East and West German sports systems were locked into an intractable conflict that Munich exacerbated rather than improved; the full diplomatic context in which Black September's attack on the Israeli team took place, which threatened to unravel Germany's concerted efforts at rapprochement across the Arab world; and finally the contextualisation of the terrorist attack in the history of security, which showed that not only the Germans but also the SAS and the special forces of the USA and France were powerless to resolve an unprecedented military situation.

References to the research

Key Publications

1. C. Young and K. Schiller, The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany, University of California Press, Berkeley (2010), 348 pp. [German translation: München 1972. Olympische Spiele im Zeichen des modernen Deutschland, Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen (2012), 397pp.]


2. C. Young, `Carrying a German flame: the Olympic torch relay and its instrumentalization in the age of Ostpolitik.' In Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung 32.1 (2007), 116-36

3. C. Young, `"A Victory for the Olympic Idea." Berlin 1936 in its sporting and socio-cultural contexts'. In Stadion: Internationale Zeitschrift für Geschichte des Sports 33.2 (2007), 1-27

4. C. Young, `Nicht mehr die herrlichste Nebensache der Welt.' Sport, West Berlin and the Four Powers Agreement 1971. In German Politics and Society 25.1 (2007), 28-45


5. C. Young, `Olympic Boycotts: Always Tricky'. In Dissent, Summer 2008, 67-72


6. C. Young, `Nach den Spielen ist vor den Spielen. Zur diskursiven Nachwirkung von Carl Diem, 1936-1972'. In Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 59.3 (2011), 264-71

Grants awarded Grant title: Re-presenting the German Nation: The 1972 Munich Olympics
Sponsor: BA Small Grant
Period: 1 June 2003 to 30 September 2004
Value: £4,700

Grant title: Die Olympischen Spiele 1972 in München
Sponsor: Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung
Period: 13 January 2004 to 12 March 2004
Value: 7500 Euro

Grant title: Re-presenting the German Nation: The 1972 Munich Olympics
Sponsor: AHRC research leave grant (1 term)
Period: 16 January 2006 to 31 March 2006
Value: £8,370.22

Grant title: Die Olympischen Spiele 1972 in München
Sponsor: Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung
Period: 1 May 2006 to 16 June 2006
Value: 3750 Euro

Quality of Research
The articles were published in highly respected blind-peer review journals, in several disciplines, in Germany and the USA. The monograph appeared with one of the leading university presses in the United States and was placed in its prestigious series `Weimar and Now', edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Ed Dimendberg. Wallstein, which published the German translation, is now rated the leading academic history publisher in Germany. The book won both the Aberdare Literary Prize of the British Society of Sports History (2011) and the Annual Book Prize of the North American Society of Sports History (2011). As a result of the English original and related outputs, Young was invited by the history editor at UC to found and co-edit a series on the history of sport, and by the Woodrow Wilson Center Washington DC, to co-direct a project on Cold War sports. The monograph received excellent reviews in both the press and academic journals. Indicative evidence: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (25.7.2012); Deutschland Radio (10.6.12); German Studies Review 35.2 (2012), 453-55; Central European History 44.4 (2011), 779-81; American Historical Review 117.2 (2012), 630; International Journal of the History of Sport 28.17 (2011), 2769-71.

Details of the impact

Impact on Public Discourse

In 2010, the publication of the monograph was announced via the German news agencies and an item found its way into nearly every Sunday edition in the country. Subsequently, reviews and interviews were carried by Der Spiegel (30 August 2010, nr. 35, p. 117) Die Zeit online, taz, Deutschlandfunk (BBC Radio 4 equivalent) and ZDF television.

This coverage triggered multiple opportunities for public engagement on core themes of Young's work. He was guest speaker at the awards ceremony of the German Olympic Academy (Leipzig 2011),where he presented the contested legacies of 1936 functionaries from across the country; panellist (alongside media personalities and Olympic medallists) at an event organized by Der Tagesspiegel and the Olympiastadion Berlin GmbH to examine those Games on their anniversary; and the only non-native-speaker contributor in an intervention to the on-going public debate about their organizer (see Diem article above). As Munich prepared its bid for the Winter Games, the book served as the basis for major features in the FAZ and the Süddeutsche Zeitung. On the personal recommendation of the former Mayor and SPD leader, the current Mayor commissioned its translation so that it could appear on the German market in time for the IOC's decision. On its appearance, the former Mayor described it as `a book from which today's generation has much to learn'. On the eve of the 2018 announcement, Young was interviewed on Bavarian television to explain the lessons contemporary planners could glean from 1972.

Impact on Cultural Life

The monograph was also the principal reference for the exhibition `München 72 - Trainingsplatz einer Demokratie', which ran for 6 weeks in 2012 at Munich's main station. Young served as consultant to the artistic director, passing on objects from his personal collection (which later formed part of the show), establishing vital contacts, writing the major essay for the brochure, and giving a reading in the events series. According to the artistic director, Young `brought to the project an extremely rare understanding of both the creative process and political history', and the resulting exhibition `could not have achieved its success without his collaboration'. It attracted over 2000 visitors and was widely covered and praised in the media for its inventive use of sport and history to mediate matters of contemporary concern. It not only allowed its sponsors, the Nemetschek Stiftung and Gesicht Zeigen!, to transmit key messages about democracy, but also helped both to enhance their position and reputation as foundations.

In 2011, Young made, (in the words of the producer), a `hugely significant' contribution as consultant to three of the six documentary programmes `Olympic Radio Ballads' (on Berlin 1936, Munich 1972, and Controversies), which were commissioned by the BBC, produced by Smooth Operations, and broadcast on Radio 2 in the run-up to London 2012. Young advised the makers about content and structure, organized an extensive list of interview partners, assisted with translation and was interviewed at several locations in Berlin, Munich and Magdeburg, becoming `a major voice in the Munich and Berlin Radio Ballads and a spine around which we could build sequences.' (idem) Key details of the Berlin and Munich Olympics were highlighted and inspired songwriters to craft new songs from the stories told about them. His contacts to other academics, functionaries and athletes — not least the East German sex-change shot-putter Andreas Krieger — offered `priceless access' and `unimaginable editorial treasures' (idem).

Radio 2 is the most listened-to station in the UK and can attract a million people for a single show. Gillian Reynolds wrote in the Telegraph, `The stories it tells of the 1936 Berlin Games are brilliantly researched, unforgettable once heard.' The Controller of BBC Radio 2, Bob Shennan, described the series as the best he has commissioned in a career spanning six radio networks and 25 years.

Impact on Civil Society

Young's research was the basis of his April 2012 presentation at the Historian's Speaker Series at the Office of State in Washington. The presentation focused on the variety of ways that sport can be used to help understand a society, its history, and identity, while also comparing and contrasting Cold War developments (sport, social, and otherwise) in East Germany with those in West Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Those in attendance included historians from the Office of the Historian, the Office of Records Management, and Foreign Service Officers who work on German-related issues in the Department's European Division. Young's work is presently used in the Office of the Historian's Historical Briefing Program, and has been instrumental in presenting new ways for briefing attendees to think about German history, the Cold War, and the implications for present-day society and policy. The Historical Briefing Program provides country- specific historical background to U.S. ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, Foreign Service Officers, and Department of State personnel so that they may better understand the context in which they operate.

Sources to corroborate the impact

Public Discourse

  1. Zeit online interview:
  2. Deutschlandfunk review and interview:;
  3. Letter from person 1 (Mayor of Munich) to Wallstein Publishers.
  4. Bavarian Television: Person 2 (Head of Sports, Bayrischer Rundfunk)

Cultural Life

  1. Statement of corroboration (with further references to media impact) from Person 3 (artistic director of the exhibition)
  2. Statement of corroboration (with further reference to media impact) from Person 4 (Producer, Smooth Operations).

Civil Society

  1. Statement of corroboration (with a further description of the program) from Person 5, (Historical Briefing Program Coordinator, Office of the Historian, US Department of State).