And so we come to the end another Olympic Games with all of the pomp and ceremony – marching athletes, flag waving, extinguishing the cauldron, speeches, huzzahs, passing the flag. Hyper-nationalism on display for all to see.
It is probably not what Pierre de Fredy, Baron de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee had in mind. The Baron, whose nobility went back to King Louis XI, was an idealist of first order.
“He believed that the early ancient Olympics encouraged competition among amateur rather than professional athletes and saw value in that. The ancient practice of a sacred truce in association with the Games might have modern implications, giving the Olympics a role in promoting peace. This role was reinforced in Coubertin’s mind by the tendency of athletic competition to promote understanding across cultures, thereby lessening, in his mind, the dangers of war.
Coubertin expressed this ideal thus: “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
This old crank has watched a lot of Olympic Games over the decades. The games have turned from competition between amateur sportsmen and women into a showcase for professionalism, commercialism and capitalism of the highest order.
In his book “Celebration Capitalism and the Olympic Games”, Jules Boykoff outlines it all – “The Olympic Games have become the world’s greatest media and marketing event—a global celebration of exceptional athletics gilded with corporate cash. Huge corporations vie for association with the “Olympic Image” in the hope of gaining a worldwide marketing audience of billions.”
You did see all the ads didn’t you?
“ He argues that the Athens Games in 2004 marked the full emergence of celebration capitalism, with London 2012 representing its quintessential expression, characterized by a state of exception, unfettered commercialism, repression of dissent, questionable sustainability claims, and the complicity of the mainstream media.”
The public – private partnerships that are the Olympic Games result in the public paying for the games while the private interests profit. Vladimir Putin spent 50 billion dollars on his games. He was happy to do so as the International Olympic Committee demands that we not “bring politics to the games”. Putin got to present his Russia to the world – free of those annoying dissenters.
As for the games – well I just watched the NHL hockey team representing the United States lose to the NHL hockey team representing Finland; after all of the talking heads prattled on for days about the “miracle on ice”.
The “miracle on ice” was a miracle because the U. S. team was composed on amateurs – kids playing for Minnesota, Boston College and Bowling Green. It was not composed of multi-millionaire NHL players who play hockey for a living – and a very good one at that. The Soviet team at the time, while not NHL, were professionals – they played hockey while making a living as “soldiers” in the Red Army. I n exhibitions that year, Soviet club teams went 5–3–1 against NHL teams, and a year earlier, the Soviet national team had routed the NHL All-Stars 6–0. So yes, it really was a miracle.
The U.S. won more than ten of its medals as of today in “X-Game Sports”. Not too long ago there was no “half-pipe” or “slope skiing” or “snow boarding” at the Olympics. Some years ago ESPN began throwing money at these “sports” to fill up their T.V. schedule. The makers of “energy drinks” soon began sponsorship, targeting “generation x and y-ers” – lots of money to be made. Soon we had “world cup” slope skiing and half pipe events – and then the Olympics found a way to add to its Winter sports, give out more medals and bring in more corporate cash. Now we get to hear interminably about “big air”, “amplitude” and “720s”. I move that Flugtag be made an Olympic sport – albeit at the Summer games.
Did you wonder why many participants in these “sports” secretly cheered when Shaun White went down to defeat? Apparently it was felt he had been hogging all of the money and publicity as the only face of the “sport”. Others wanted a crack at the trough. Each got a 15 or 30 second shot after their event in front of the cameras where they could flash their goofiest smile and do their best hipster-dude speak. There are sponsors to be had.
Ladies Figure Skating had another of its regular dust-ups when the Russian skater beat out the South Korean. Millions took to the net to bitch. Turns out about 90% of the bitching originated in South Korea. Don’t they know they have to wait their turn? When the games are in Seoul in four years the Korean skaters will have an excellent shot at gold.
Speaking of Seoul, we saw short track speed skater and three time Gold medalist Ahn Hyun-soo give up his Korean citizenship and take Russian citizenship after he was not given a spot on Korea’s speed skating team. Taking the name Viktor Ahn, he won Russia’s first gold medal in speed skating. While “passport swapping” is fairly common at the Olympics (if you are not good enough to make your own national team, well go shop around) most passport swappers are not medal threats.
Mr. and Mrs. Gary Di Silvestri, cross country skiers, 46 and 48, represented Dominica at the games – the island nation’s only representatives. They carried the Dominica flag in the opening ceremony. He is a hedge fund manager on Wall Street and was granted necessary citizenship in Dominica for his “charitable work”. He got an intestinal infection at the games and was hospitalized the day after carrying the flag. He collapsed after 300 meters in his event several days later and didn’t finish. His wife fell during a training run and broke her nose. She didn’t compete at all.
Ahn, on the other hand, may be the first athlete known and respected throughout his nation to skip town for a better offer. Sort of like free-agency. Maybe we will look back on him as the Curt Flood of the Olympic games.
Remember when the Olympic Games were held in places like Lake Placid on the cheap?
Don’t mind me. No one else does either.
P.S. – Joke that was going around Russia – “The Russian Biathlon Team was ordered to shoot the Russian Hockey Team. No one was wounded. All the shots missed.” The Biathlon team must have heard the joke; it promptly went out and won the Gold in the Men’s 4 x 7.5 Relay.