The Other Olympians
Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports
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 athletes in women's track-and-field sports, announced that he was going to be living as a man.
Overnight, Koubek became a global celebrity. For a brief moment, he seemed to be ushering in a new paradigm for sports. Readers flooded popular magazines with letters asking how a gender transition was possible; doctors wrote op-eds urging the public to accept him; queer Americans wondered how they, too, could follow a similar path.
That might have stayed true if it were not for a small cadre of sports officials, who in early 1936 raised the alarm over athletes like Koubek. Unbeknownst to the public, they began devising a system of “sex testing” techniques that, they hoped, would keep trans and intersex athletes out of professional sports forever.
Advanced praise for The Other Olympians
"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