Communist sport: Cold War copycats

The west was so impressed by the Eastern Bloc's athletic feats that it sought to emulate its methods. Here, Chris Young analyses capitalism's game of catch up in the Cold War

British prime minister Edward Heath with Olympic gold medal winner Mary Peters. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the January 2011 edition of BBC History Magazine

Mary Peters was unique. Not because she won Britain’s only track and field gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics. And not because she was 32 when she did so. But in claiming victory by a tenth of a second in the dramatic final event of the pentathlon, she achieved the virtually impossible at those ill-starred games: preventing a West or East German woman winning on the track. Popular memory recalls the East German sporting machine and conveniently forgets the west. Run so close in the competition by the West German Heide Rosendahl and the East German Burglinde Pollak, Peters could ill afford to neglect athletes from both sides of the German border.

Want to read more?

Become a BBC History Magazine subscriber today to unlock all premium articles in The Library

Unlock now