When I was a kid, I read about the Olympics in the sports sections of the local papers. The first ones I remember on TV were from Rome; I think that was 1960. I eagerly watched some of the events like swimming and track and field even though the pictures were less than clear. The Olympics were a big deal to me; I liked them and I looked forward to them and I watched and followed many of the events that led up to the selection processes for the US team in the major sports.
Those days are gone, long gone. And I don’t see any way that they will be coming back in whatever time I have left on the planet. The Olympics are no longer fresh. Maybe the best thing that can happen is to put them on a hiatus for about another century and then try to start over when these memories have faded.
What is wrong? Lots of stuff is wrong. And in no particular order, here are a few of them.
First of all, the Olympics have added sports and competitions that are just stupid. Remember the motto of “Faster, Higher, Longer”? Now think about ballroom dancing and synchronized diving and trampoline tumbling and rhythmic gymnastics and all that crap. These events do not belong in the Olympics and need to be exorcized. Here is a first cut that the Olympic gurus can make if they care:
If the sport requires background music as an integral part of the competition, then it is not a sport. Get rid of it. That applies to the Winter Games too which are even more densely packed with stupid events than the Summer Games.
Secondly, emphasis needs to be placed on events where the winner is objectively determined. It is not a mystery whose javelin went the farthest; it is not a mystery which wrestler accumulated the greatest number of points in a bout; it is not a mystery whose score in a shooting competition is the highest. But if you have to have a panel of judges make subjective judgments about form and style and then you average the scores and multiply by a degree of difficulty except when someone in the 3rd row of the stands emits projectile vomit onto the venue floor, then this is not a sport and you should get rid of it. Notice that boxing falls into this category.
Next, lots of people argue that the end of the Cold War has diminished the Olympics and the Olympic Committees need only to find some new important thing to build the Games around. Really; the diminished threat of planetary nuclear destruction is what reduced the stature of the Olympics? Then I guess the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and the subsequent 1984 games in Los Angeles must have been the pinnacle of the “Olympic Movement” (which by the way can probably be cured by a large dose of Immodium AD). The Games in 80 and 84 were both key elements in the foreign policies of both of the super powers that engaged in the Cold War. This kind of analysis is just plain silly and it attaches a level of importance and stature to games that is horribly inappropriate.
In addition, the Olympic athletes are no longer interesting. They are just a bunch of self-absorbed egomaniacal twits who spend their lives training when they are not preening. There is no longer even the pretense of “amateurism”. Remember in those “good old Cold War days” when people could and would wax philosophical about all that nonsense. Who cares if they are amateurs? Who cares if they are professionals? What I care about is that they perform and then either take the accolades for success with equal measures of jubilation and modesty or hit the road and keep quiet in the case of failure. But what no one needs to worry about is what the next level of self-indulgent display may be from these folks. Trust me on this, you don’t need to hear much of anything from any of them as is proven conclusively every time someone sticks a microphone in any of their faces. The only thing they know in depth is running or lifting or whatever. Now, just how long will it take you to plumb the depths of your interest to hear about the cosmological implications of lifting weights?
Add to all the above the issue of drugs. Moralists see the Olympics as a metaphor in the struggle against drugs. Politicians see this as a way to align themselves with all that is good and proper. The fact is that athletes have been using drugs for years and it ain’t gonna stop. Testing for real performance enhancers is costly and difficult so we emphasize testing for cold medicines and caffeine. Just look at the people walking down the street drinking something from Starbucks. Does that make them an athlete capable of great feats? But you can be DQ’ed from the Olympics for a double espresso. The drug question is ongoing and not going to stop because we’ve allowed it to dominate news coverage. But we don’t demand that there be sanity in any of the policies or the reporting and so it just becomes annoying and insulting to our intelligence.
Some people get caught up in the high falutin’ self-importance of the Olympics and assert that this whole drug testing business and the drug usage “scandals” are some kind of class warfare. Athletes from rich countries or ones with rich sponsors get to use the “big time drugs” but athletes from the small and poor countries are deprived. The playing field is uneven. Balderdash! Just remember the plight of the Jamaican bobsled team. It had nothing to do with rich or poor or anything other than latitude and altitude in Jamaica. Latitude and altitude – not economics or ethnic origins – conspire to make snow a rarity in Jamaica! If you want to find injustice, you can root around in anything and find a shred of something that you can use as the shaky foundation of some nonsensical thesis. This is not about class warfare.
There are people in the US who are in the business of setting America on the right course and eliminating the scourge of drugs from our society. Good luck to them. But they use the Olympics as a way to get their mugs on TV and they do that in the time-honored way of doing/saying something that is sufficiently outrageous as to be newsworthy. (Definition of “newsworthy”: a TV camera and mike are present and it goes on the 11 o’clock news to fill time.) This go-round it was General Barry McCaffrey and Donna Shalala who were out front and beating the drums about the evils of drugs and how they would be detected in these Olympics if anyone even thought about cheating. The rest of the world rightfully takes offense at all this preening – just like the preening of some of the athletes, by the way – and looks askance at the US drug testing protocols which are done anonymously for privacy reasons. And so when they have a chance, they take pleasure in poking their fingers in the eyes of these “public posers”. Why do you think CJ Hunter’s test results got leaked? He was not even an athlete in these games. It was just a way of telling the pompous and self-pumpulated spokesgoons in the US to shut up already about the drug evil.
Want to know one of the major steps that is heralded by the IOC as a reform measure aimed as reducing drug usage? They are putting athletes on the executive board of the IOC and that is the key to this reform measure. Not a chance that you have the fox watching the henhouse here, right? These athletes might not be bribed to tell what the new testing will be and how/when it will happen, would they? If not on the first day, they will learn the benefits of bribery from rubbing elbows with the other IOC moguls pretty quickly. These athletes may not be well mannered, but they are not too stupid to recognize a way to get an advantage.
Next, there is the TV coverage. First of all, there is far too much of it and that is mandated by the billions of dollars that NBC shelled out to have the rights to all the games until whenever. In order to come even close to breaking even, NBC has to do several things. It has to put multiple hundreds of hours on TV and cable TV to be able to fit in enough commercials to generate big time revenues. And they need to reach out for viewers beyond sports fans – like me – because we won’t watch some of the stuff they put on the air just because they say it is a sport. I’d rather listen to a Bach fugue farted in harmony by two monkeys than watch team dressage; you’d have to shackle me to the TV and prop my eyes open to get me to watch over half the events. So NBC reaches out to women and to people who appreciate the “softer aspects of sporting events.”
How do they get these viewers? They get them with stupid events (these viewers love women’s gymnastics or “the Pixies” as they are called); they get them with the “up close and personal and in depth stories” about each athlete and the hardships that befell them on their quest to get here. There are way too many of these sob stories and way too many that are concocted. Every life does not have poignancy in it; every problem encountered by an athlete is not the result of a malevolent universe. Muffy Lardbottom did not have great burdens to overcome on her way to the equestrian team unless she had an accident that broke a minimum of 15 bones in her body at one time. Athlete’s foot is not a disaster; being born without any feet is a disaster. Halitosis is not a burden; asthma is a burden to be overcome; not breathing at all is a real problem.
So NBC loses sports fans with the “soft side” and then loses the other viewers when it puts on things like basketball or ice hockey or pole vaulting or things like that. And here is a little factoid that seems to have escaped many of the people who have yearned for more involvement on the part of the public when it comes to these noble games. Back in the 60s and 70s and 80s, there was little if any choice in what to watch. The summer Olympics went up against Ozzie and Harriet re-runs or The Ed Sullivan Show. Now viewership is fragmented because of the various outlets. You have cable channels that are devoted 24 hours a day to all manner of pastimes from shopping to golf to jock-itch. So with those choices, why stay and watch the Olympic silliness?
Finally, we can deal with the wonderful people that run the Olympics and the international governing bodies of the sports themselves. The IOC folks are clearly open to bribes – and don’t think that lots of those folks will be happy to stick it to the USOC specifically for letting that little secret come out into the open. They condone cheating as evidenced by the written records of the East German Olympic Committee who knowingly put men into women’s events. They posture themselves as wretchedly as our politicians do or as egotistically as many athletes do. The gymnastics overseers had four years to get the height of the vaulting horse right in the Sydney Olympics and they blew it. Then just like a modern politician, they accepted responsibility by declaring so and then moved on to the next event. You want to point your kids to a role model? How much bourbon do I have to pour in you until you come to Juan Antonio Samaranch on your list of people to consider? If you want to try this experiment, can you wait until I go and buy stock in the Jack Daniels distillery?
So let me get to the bottom line here. The games have been turned into a medley of events where most of the events don’t belong there in the first place; the athletes are merely a bunch of self-indulgent employees of some sponsor; the people organizing the games are about as noble as gun-runners; the television coverage is overdone and cloyingly sweet and pseudo-poignant. And they wonder why the TV ratings were lower this year when these events were on an 18 hour tape delay than they were in Atlanta when they were live. If you can’t see why, then you are suffering from rectal blindness.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………