A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympic Ambivalence

The one question I have heard most this week is, “Have you been watching the Olympics?” Usually I just shake my head, which is enough for the questioner to try another subject for conversation or move on to another person in the room entirely. I have found that they have better luck with the next person in answering their query. Which is fine with me, but it got me wondering why I am so ambivalent about the Olympic Games.

I have thought maybe it’s due to my unathletic physique. I’m not prone to participating in sports, so why should I watch them? Then I realized that is not a totally fair explanation; after all I do like baseball and Philadelphia Phillies baseball in particular. So I am highly biased to just one sport. That’s not a capital crime...not yet anyway.

Am I just too lazy to watch the games on television? Yes, I will plead guilty to this charge. Our television is in the basement, and yes it is quite an endeavor to walk up not one, but two flights of stairs at bedtime.

Or could my interest in the Olympics have been stunted by some childhood trauma? Maybe an incident in my past has squelched my enthusiasm for this display of semi-professional sports. No, it’s not anything in my past, but in the Olympics past which may have influenced me. For this I offer as evidence Mexico City and Munich.

The first Olympics of which I was first conscious — mainly because it was televised — was the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. It was an interesting time to come of age in American history. Everyone over thirty was a member of “The Establishment” who were war-like creatures. Everyone younger than that just wanted peace, love and pot. Yes, all the generational conflicts fought over the war in Vietnam and racism on the streets of America was just as clear cut as that.

The conflicts even descended on the Olympics. I remember one controversy erupted when two black Americans, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, won the major medals for the Men’s 200 Meter race. As they stood on the podiums for the National Anthem, they did not put their hands over their hearts, but rather raised their clenched fists in a display of “Black Power”. This gesture accomplished two goals: the athletes showed solidarity with their brothers and sisters back in America, and it pissed off the Establishment (see above). Boy, did it piss off the Establishment...

Then, four years later, more political theater was played out in Munich. This time, however, the gesture was not a relatively peaceful show of defiance, but outright mass murder. Terrorists took the Israeli Olympic team hostage. German authorities tried to rescue the hostages, but to no avail. All 11 hostages died in the rescue attempt. It was probably the darkest day in the history of the Olympics.

Political intrigue was nothing new to the Olympics in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Hitler made sure that the 1936 Berlin Games were non-stop Nazi propaganda from start to finish. His next movements in the years that followed ensured the cancellation of all Olympic Games for 1940 and 1944. We can officially consider Hitler a spoil sport, among other things.

So, in one regard, the Olympics to me have been little more than an excuse for one country or another to score political points. This is sad, because it steals the glory from the young athletes who train for years to get to the Games. I am sympathetic to their hard work, and it’s not like I can totally escape hearing something about the winter games currently unfolding in snow-challenged Vancouver.

I am happy that the American skier Lindsey Vonn won the gold despite her bruised shin. I was saddened at the death of the luge athlete from Georgia. We should take some consolation from the idea that he died doing something he loved.

Yet, I can’t bring myself to plop down in front of the TV and watch it. Perhaps this is my loss...

(Thank you for reading. Please remember and cherish the wonderful diversity found in all nations and their people.)


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