Christopher Hitchens tore the Olympics a new one in his Newsweek article this month. Whatever the topic, he makes his opinion very clear. But in this case, his tone was particularly bilious, and downright hostile. The photos of athletes used for the article were deliberately unflattering, and it’s probably just as well that they weren’t captioned. Yet, I often found myself nodding in agreement. For instance, the whole idea of the pure Olympic ideals and the notion that nations are suddenly getting along are both far-fetched.
The Olympics, like any huge sporting event, are all about the pimping. The enormous gravy train is obsessed with self-preservation – huge money is at stake. As such, corruption will follow, and it’s seen everywhere, from the process of countries bidding, to the judging of events, to the drugs used by athletes who feel pressure to perform from peers, sponsors, and governments, and that’s only the beginning. Though the IOC is a legendary part of this sordid process, they’re certainly in excellent company. Somewhere in this miasma of greed, actual athletics take place.
As a little kid, the prospect of an upcoming Olympics would drive me into a frenzy of excitement – I couldn’t imagine anything cooler than being in the Olympic Village with all those other athletic greats and getting ready for my event. And this is exactly the attitude that the many ads want to promote and preserve. But as you observe the process over time and the blinders come off, the sheen fades quickly. Say it ain’t so, Joe! Nowadays as I watch a race, event, or game, my mind may wander, wondering if the athletes I’m seeing are on the junk or not. I assume that many are.
Corruption, drugs, and other such practices are perfectly fine with many fans. The argument is simple – it’s only entertainment, corruption is in every industry anyway, the athletes’ health is their problem, not mine, they should do whatever it takes to be better including drugs, and so on. And the other side of the coin is that many people just want to stay uninformed, afraid that their positive image of the precious games will be disturbed – self-imposed infantilization. While I don’t easily accept those premises, I’m not naive enough to believe that everyone thinks as I do. Some years I have refused to watch the Games, fed up with the drugs, the very annoying jingoism in the coverage, and the non-stop irritating featurettes promoting particular athletes. But other years I’ll enthusiastically watch the Olympics anyway, and have a good time. So my feelings are mixed.
Fortunately, there are usually one or two stories in each Olympics that are truly inspiring. I haven’t even been keeping up on all the recent hype, but just the fact of the Games being held has induced me to start a brand new training program. So though my enjoyment won’t be unalloyed, I may very well watch this year. I’ll have fun, treat the Olympics as excellent exercise accompaniment, and now and then I will chuckle when I see that Chris is right on the money.
So far this time around, the only really obviously ridiculous thing I’ve seen so far is that Canada, the host, is allowing their own athletes full access to dowhill skiiing runs, luge runs, and speed skating rinks, and preventing athletes of other countries from having access. No, I’m not kidding. The reason? They’ve hosted the Olympics twice and haven’t won any gold medals. “That’s an advantage we cannot give away”, to quote one Canadian official. O….K. If you can’t win on the merits, hey, why not rig the game? Very un-Canadian. Sure, any host country has advantages, many built-in, such as more fans, easier travel, and so on. But they get the biscuit for this move! Any Canadian gold medal will now be called into question. Oops, I guess they didn’t think of that. Yes, Chris, I know!