“We should consider physical culture not only as cultural, industrial and military training for our youth, but also as a method of educating the masses,” stated a Communist Party document in 1925. Competitive sports were renounced as a feature of Capitalist society, promoting individualist instead of collectivist values. The Soviets refused to participate in the “bourgeois” Olympics, and in 1928, organized Spartakiade Games, which was modeled after the Olympic Games.  In 1931, to ensure mass participation in sports, the state developed a physical fitness program tellingly called “Ready for Labor and Defense.” (Gotov k Trudu i Oborone).

The period after WWII introduced a new dimension to sports: international prestige. The debut of the USSR in the Olympic Games in 1952 in Helsinki marked the shift from sports for the masses toward competitive sports. The Soviet performance in Helsinki demonstrated to the world the advantages of the Soviet system. The Soviet team brought home seventy-one medals, second only to the United States who won seventy-six medals. Four years later, the USSR captured gold medals in skiing, speed skating and ice hockey, a stunning accomplishment given the fact that hockey had been introduced to Russia only after World War II. The Soviet hockey program was recognized as the premier in the world and earned the nickname “The Big Red Machine”.


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