- Systematic gymnastics and organized sport in Austria were developments of the 19th and 20th centuries. Physical education became a requirement in Austrian schools after 1869, though it was optional for girls after 1882.Europe’s most popular sport, football (soccer), came to the Habsburg Empire well before World War I. Though efforts to create an all-empire league failed, the game was widely played locally. Its popularity soared, however, after 1918, when Vienna became the seat of sociologically contested matches between squads from the more sophisticated and affluent districts of the central city and more proletarian teams from outlying areas. Commercialization, the sponsorship of big businesses and banks, and the public media turned football from a Vienna-centered spectator attraction into a national one after World War II. Austrian teams have qualified for the World Cup, for example in 1998, but have never been serious contenders for the final rounds. Though it cohosted with Switzerland the 2008 European Cup games, Austria was quickly eliminated from competition. Other Austrian athletes, however, have been much more successful in a variety of international settings. In 1923, Vienna was dubbed “the city of strong men,” after winning four titles in world championship weight lifting. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, Austrian prizefighters excelled at all weight levels in a variety of competitions. Though nationalist politicians disapproved of Olympic Games because of their cosmopolitan goals, Austrian boxers, equestrians, and rowers won four gold, six silver, and three bronze medals at the Berlin games in 1936. Gymnastic associations were, however, intractably politicized. Austria’s German Nationalist Party, Christian Social Party, and Social Democratic Workers’ Party all had their own clubs. The right-wing regime of Engelbert Dollfuss suppressed the Social Democratic Turnverein in 1934.Individual Austrians have had impressive careers in international sport since 1945. Stock car racer Niki Lauda (1949–) has been a three-time Formula 1 champion (1975, 1977, 1984). Thomas Muster (1967–) performed powerfully in tennis on European clay courts; he took one Grand Slam title at the French Open in 1995. Austrian tennis players continue to play at Grand Slam events, but largely fail to move beyond the quarterfinals. Though Austria, along with Switzerland, cohosted the European Cup soccer matches in 2008, the Austrian team performed poorly. Austria’s most attractive, and most promising, competitive athlete at the beginning of the 21st century has been swimmer Markus Rogan (1982–). Trained largely in the United States, where he attended high school and Stanford University, he won a series of gold medals for the backstroke in world and European competition. Although he took two silver medals in the 2004 Athens Olympics, he disappointed Austrian fans, who were hoping for gold once more. Rogan was, however, named Austrian Sportsman of the Year. His performance in Beijing in 2008 was mediocre, as was the Austrian effort as a whole, which ended with three medals, none gold.It has in winter events that Austria became an enduring front-runner internationally. Austrians won gold medals in individual and paired figure skating in 1923. The female champion, Herma Szábo (1902–1986), won seven world titles in all. At the 1932 Winter Olympics, Austrians took two gold medals in men’s figure skating. Following World War II, Austria established a reputation for exceptional athletic accomplishment on the ski slopes. Indeed, although soccer has a huge and enthusiastic following, skiing is the authentic national sport. It is widely taught, even to schoolchildren; ski champions are consistently the sport heroes of the country. The first and perhaps the most accomplished of these was Toni (Anton) Sailer (1935–), who won three gold medals in downhill, slalom, and the giant slalom in the 1956 Olympics. Austrians dominated the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics in skiing, along with tobogganing, bobsledding, and figure skating, capturing four gold medals, five silvers, and three bronzes. Austrian skiers, male and female, took 14 medals at the Alpine Ski World Championship in 1999 in Vail, Colorado. More recently, Hermann Maier (1972–) has been a very impressive performer.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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