The Summer Olympics begin tonight in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And I couldn’t be more excited. Yes, I said excited. I am aware the games come with a laundry list of issues. The Zika virus is rampant in Brazil, the bays and shores entertaining many events are toxic with waste water, and it all takes place in an impoverished country that has doled out billions to host an Olympics – all while incapable of providing for their own people.
Wait? I did say I was excited right? Inevitably people will cast aspersions at these Olympic Games for the reasons I listed. It makes one yearn for a time and place when Olympic athletes were placed on a pedestal. In my early years the Olympics were bigger than life to a 10-year-old that loved sports. Staying up a little later with my parents to watch Bill Johnson’s miraculous gold medal upset in alpine skiing in 84’. Those are Olympic memories that are etched in my brain’s nostalgia walls. And if you can honestly say you remember Bill Johnson, I no longer need to sell you on the importance of the Olympic Games.
It is the youth of this generation that from what I see, don’t have an interest in “a bunch of lame sporting events.” Which I suppose is a reflection of the fact they’ve grown up with 100 channels with which to consume their evening. I feel comfortable in saying I come from the last generation of kids that had true “appointment television”, with NBC, CBS, and ABC being our only vestige of entertainment. We had no choice but to watch the Olympics in its entirety. It wasn’t as if I was hankering to see some synchronized swimming or the pentathlon. But once you strip away the minutia of each and every event, you are left with one thing: human competition.
And to me there is nothing more exciting than watching athletes compete. Whatever sport, event, skill – watching the physical and emotional toll it takes on these competitors, is worth the watch. It’s certainly better than watching an NBA player that makes $10 million a year throw a hissy fit to an interviewer after a game or even worse, watching one of these over paid prima donnas refuse an interview – or better yet an autograph.
I’ll take a 22-year -old Turkish kid earning a surprise medal in diving over that any day of the week. But I digress…
Once again an Olympic Games will play out amidst and under a blanket of fear, controversy, and uncertainty. It makes me miss the Olympics of my youth a time when the games were less sullied, and without heavy political overtones...
Or am I just seeing the Olympics through the lenses of rose colored glasses? Romanticizing a time, that for the most part, has never existed.
The Olympic Games have always mirrored the world flag it competes under. And that world is always brewing up one pot of controversy or another.
External controversies; The 1936 Olympics saw Jesse Owens win gold medals in front of Hitler, as the Nazi Party had just seized power. In 1972 we saw a handful of Israeli athletes held hostage, and eventually killed, as the games played out. Many years countries boycotted under the platform of political discord (USA 1980 Summer, USSR 1984 Summer), leaving those games marked with an asterisk.
Internal controversies: In 1904 long distance runner Fred Lorz hopped in a car for 11 miles of the marathon he won and was eventually stripped of his medal. In 1972 the USSR beat the US in basketball, via shady clock tactics. Not to mention a litany of athletes found to have used performance enhancing drugs during competition.
So let’s put aside the idea, that my, yours, or anybody else’s Olympic Games were somehow “purer”, and let’s just focus on the competitions that will take place over the next 17 days.
Let’s just enjoy watching someone that has dedicated their life, to what in many cases amounts to a 3 minute routine, a sub 4 minute run, or a few moments in a pool. The indomitable spirit of someone so committed to a single endeavor deserves our reverence. I can only wish I had the level of commitment these athletes have – in anything I do.
I’m a man that’s has a ¾ eaten bag of salt and vinegar chips on top of his fridge – they were left 3 months ago after a party. I hate salt and vinegar Lay’s chips! But I know at some point in the throes of my bachelorhood I’ll eat those bottom bag crumbs. Possibly while watching Michael Phelps win gold. Only then will we finally share in a level of commitment and stick-to-itiveness...and other things.
The Olympics always provide an opportunity for some unknown American to rise from obscurity and become part of our cultural lexicon for years to come. From the 1980 Men’s Hockey Team, to Mary Lou Retton and Greg Louganis, the cover of a Wheaties box awaits an unknown athlete.
Mary Lou Retton was my childhood crush after the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics so much so that from grades 6-8 my nickname at Nile Garden was Mary Lou. This is not a preferable nickname for a teen interested in girls and sports. But it stuck like a Mary Lou Retton vault landing. I have taken several shots over the last few years at grade school buddy Eric Simoni, regarding our competitive nature on a basketball court. That is what he gets for encouraging that awful nickname to stick. I know it annoys him when I mention me dominating him on the blacktops of Nile Garden. But Big Deal! Can you imagine anything more embarrassing than being called Mary Lou while on those courts?! (Other than being dominated by a dude nicknamed Mary Lou.)
Anybody else ever have to pull their close friends aside and say this before high school started - “Calling me Mary Lou has been great the last few years, if it continues in HS – I’m gonna whip your a**!”
Ultimately the games come down to individuals. The real romanticism is that the Olympics pit country against country. When in reality, it is the individuals we remember. When we think of Nadia Comaneci nailing perfect 10’s, we don’t think of Romania – but a pixie sized athlete at the top of her game. When I remember Teofilo Stevensen, I think of a boxer that won 3 gold medals as a heavyweight boxer not a Cuban that was limited by the Castro regime.
So feel free to pull up a chair the next 17 days. Forget about Trump and Hillary. Forget about terrorism, and pray that these Olympics avoid such a tragedy. Forget that the Niners are going to stink this year, regardless of who they start at quarterback.
The Summer Olympics are here. Feel free to watch people doing what you can’t do. But wish you could.
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning, but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering, but fighting well.” — Pierre de Coubertin
‘I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run towards it, because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet” — Nadia Comanici