Tag: Basque Sport

March 24, 1980: Death of Pierre Etchebaster, greatest real tennis player in history

If you haven’t heard of real tennis or court tennis, then check it out . Not only is it the forerunner of modern or “lawn” tennis, but it has a long and important history. Evolving out of hand ball games not unlike the Basques’ very own pelota, it was the sport of the royal houses of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the famous 1789 Tennis Court Oath in the French Revolution was taken in a real tennis court. And real tennis reputedly has the longest line of consecutive word champions in any sport, dating back to 1760.

Pierre Etchebaster in 1928, wearing his customary txapela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Pierre Etchebaster in 1928, wearing his customary txapela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Arguably the greatest real tennis player of all time, at least in the modern age, was a Basque, Pierre Etchebaster. Born in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) on the coast of Lapurdi, in 1893, he naturally grew up playing several of the different types of pelota. Aged eighteen, he was already champion of France in the chistera/xistera variety, the equivalent of what we know today as jai alai or zesta punta. After serving in the French army in World War I he returned to the Basque Country where he continued to excel at pelota.

In 1922 he took up real tennis and became head professional at the Paris court club after auditioning for the post the first time he picked up a racquet! In 1928, already in this thirties, he won his first world championship, wearing his customary blue txapela or beret as a sign of his strong Basque identity. This began a remarkable run of world championship victories, winning his last title in 1954 aged sixty years old! In the meantime, he also spent the 1930s in the United States, where he was a resident professional at the prestigious Racquet and Tennis Club in New York City, where he resided until his retirement in the 1950s.

An excellent athlete, he enjoyed a full and active retirement. He was awarded France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor, in 1955, and went on to publish a coaching manual about the game in 1971. In 1978 he was inducted into the tennis hall of fame. Etchebaster died in the town of his birth, Donibane Lohizune, aged eighty-seven.

Check out this fascinating article on Etcebaster by the New Yorker in 1953.

See also the fascinating book by Olatz González Abrisketa, Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic.

February 9, 1918: Birth of raquetista Irene Ibaibarriaga

Arguably the most emblematic sport of the Basques is pelota in its many varieties, one of which, Jai-Alai, was especially popular in the United States at the close of the twentieth century. Another variety, played with tennis racquets by women, was also popular in the twentieth century, from the 1910s to the 1980s. One of the leading raquetistas of her generation, Irene Ibaibarriaga Ormaetxea, was born in Ermua, Bizkaia, on February 9, 1918.

She learned the sport in nearby Eibar, one of the strongholds of Basque pelota and at the age of fifteen she moved to Madrid, where her older sister Pili played professionally, to begin a career in the sport. She was offered a contract to play professionally in the Americas but turned down the opportunity and, despite her career suffering as a result of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), she still managed to make a living from the sport, playing in tournaments in Valencia, Barcelona, and later Donostia, often playing doubles with her sister. Later in her career she suffered a serious injury when a ball damaged her ear. She subsequently retired from the sport.

In 2013, a special tribute was paid to her on the occasion of the 7th Women’s Pelota Day held in Irura, Gipuzkoa. Ibaibarriaga died in 2014 at the age of ninety-six.

Check out Olatz Gonzalez Abrisketa’s Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic.

An Interview with our new CBS Professor, Mariann Vaczi

It is my great pleasure to introduce our new faculty member, Dr. Mariann Vaczi. As a graduate of the CBS, she already knows her way around and has brought great energy to the department.

 

Tell me a bit about yourself.

  • My academic specialization includes cultural anthropology, sociology, sport, physical culture, and cultural performance genres. My geographical focus includes the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Spain. I was born and raised in Hungary in a very sporty family, and I played basketball in the first division of that country. When I was twenty, I was given the opportunity to play and coach in Germany, where the American players of the club told me, why don`t you apply for an athletic scholarship in the USA? That is how I ended up in a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, where I became acquainted with anthropology, which later became my main field.
  • It was also there that I won a scholarship to study abroad in the Basque Country, which was my first encounter with this culture. I did my MA at Central European University, in Budapest, already working on topics related to Basque culture. At UNR and the Center for Basque Studies, I decided to specialize on the anthropology of sport, and more particularly on the Athletic Club and the social, cultural and political dimensions of its soccer madness. I published this book with Routledge in 2015, and I am now arranging for its translation and publication in Spanish.

What have you been up to since you finished your Ph.D. ?

  • I was based in Catalonia for almost two years. After my book was published on Basque soccer, I wanted to diversify and research Catalonian soccer from a comparative perspective, especially in light of the current sovereignty process. In the meantime, I got acquainted with an old traditional sport called human towers, and I did fieldwork on this practice for the book project I am working on now. I was a human tower performer for two seasons in Catalonia. Besides this fieldwork project, I also taught classes at the University of Dunaujvaros, Hungary.

What have you done since you got to the CBS this summer?

  • I have edited a special issue for the Journal of Iberian and Latin American Literary and Cultural Studies with the title “Sport, Identity, and Nationalism in the Hispanic World.” Besides writing my own chapter and the Introduction, I convoked, coordinated and edited the work of twelve sport sociologists, anthropologists, and historians. I am pleased to have got some of the finest experts in the field on board, and I look forward to the release of the special issue in December 2017. I have also revised and/or published two research articles on Basque and Catalonian sport and community formation in Anthropological Quarterly and Ethnos, which are top journals in the field of anthropology. Very importantly, I have started to prepare the publication of my work on Basque soccer in Spanish in both article and book form, and I can`t wait for the Basque fan community to be able to read it.

What are you teaching this semester?

  • I am teaching Basque Transnationalism in the United States. It is a class that revolves around culture, identity, ethnicity and politics in the changing landscapes of the home and host countries of Basque migration. My experience with American students is very positive: they know little about Basques in the USA, but they are very engaged and responsive.

What are your current research interests?

  • Currently, I am working towards the publication of my book on Basque and Catalonian sport and physical culture in the current phase of Catalonian nationalism and sovereignty process. After this project, I`d like to work on a book about Basque sport and physical culture, including traditional sports.

How are they different or similar to your previous research?

  • This work will draw upon much of my previous work on Basque soccer, but it will be complemented by Catalonian perspectives, and it will go beyond soccer and modern sports in order to focus on traditional sports as well.

What makes it unique?

  • This will be the first work to have discussed the political dimensions of sports for the current Catalonian sovereignty process, and the first book in English to engage with the traditional sport of human towers.

Have you attended any conferences or published anything recently?

  • In the last year, I have published a research article on Catalonia`s human towers in American Ethnologist, and a chapter on Basque and Catalan soccer in Spain in the Routledge Handbook of Sport and Politics. In the past couple of years, I gave invited talks at great European universities in Cambridge, Loughborough, Southampton, Toulouse, Bilbao, and Valencia. I am now preparing to give a talk at the annual meeting of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport in November 2017.

Are you happy to be back in the States?

  • Very much! I have lived in this country ten years, on and off, and it`s like coming home.

What have you missed the most since you’ve been here?

  • I miss the great city of Budapest, and of course my family.

 

We are so happy to have you around, and can’t wait to read your forthcoming work. Ongi etorri, Mariann!