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Olympics 2020? 2021?

Have you been watching the 2021 edition of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and have some questions or comments? Well, join the club. COVID imposed a painful year-long delay for us that couldn’t wait to watch our favorite athletes and nations compete against each other.

I have always enjoyed the Olympics. My earliest memories (vague as they are) of the five-ring event were the 1964 Olympics — also held in Japan. I was only six then (alright, ten).  

I marveled that Japan invited the world in to compete less than twenty years after atomic weapons devastated two of their major cities, all but ending the Second World War – quite a comeback. Moreover, they showed the world that the now prosperous nation could host the games — and excel in their execution.  So far, despite the pandemic, the recent variant resurrection, and even the threat of last-minute cancellation, Japan is showing the world how they have earned a gold medal for Olympic hosting. 

As an American Baby Boomer, I recognize the Olympics as a competition between the three great powers (China/Russia/USA) for global athletic superiority bragging rights.  Many other “lesser” nations perform quite well, for their size and infrastructure, with most focused on fielding athletes with a simple goal: competing against the world’s best athletes while representing their countries. Any medals gleaned would be an absolute bonus for most of them – but not for the big three – this is combat!   

But that doesn’t mean the games are immune from my satirical look.

Here is my view on the global five-ring event that has become a three-ring political circus.

Did you know Russia is banned from competing due to its repeated doping offenses?  Cool, fewer competitors equal more potential gold, silver, and bronze for us. But wait — there’s more! As I watched the initial swimming events, I caught sight of athletes swimming, even winning, for the nation of ROC. ROC?  Where is that? What is that? Answer: – these “athletes” apparently represent the Russian Olympic Committee (Republic of Communism?)  What the hell?  So, Russia is, indeed, competing. Huh? Just change the name? 

I was reminded of the multiple warnings given to Saddam Hussein after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait – “OK, cross this line, you die!” “No, OK, cross this line, you die, and this time we mean it!” 

Putin must have learned from Saddam – just how powerful is this dude?  On the flip side, the disqualification of an American athlete for a positive marijuana pre-screen would seem to be the opposite of performance-enhancing.  Perhaps Cannabis users should get together and form the SOC – the Stoner’s Olympic Committee and compete freely! 

This was the first Olympics where certain transgender athletes were allowed to perform openly. However, this fact was kept relatively quiet. I’m still not sure of the exact requirements allowing competition therein. I mean, if you can’t draw a competitive line between male and female, where can you draw a definitive line?

In the 1970s, Caitlyn Jenner, in a slightly different male configuration, was an Olympic Decathlon gold medalist and once regarded as the world’s best athlete. So, do we add a third “Trans” category to the current “Men’s and Women’s” groupings? 

At least I’ve not (yet) heard any complaints about restroom usage.  

This week saw the regretful exit from the competition by American gymnast Simone Biles – one of the most heralded athletes on the planet!  Pundits have had a lot to say about this topic – she’s either a hero or a quitter.  Unfair characterizations, to be sure, but a revealing look at the pressures associated with life at the top. 

I’ve heard her compared to Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Lebron James – the connection apparently being they are all considered the absolute best of the best.  Comparison to former Olympic megastar Michael Phelps would perhaps be more appropriate.  How about we give this one some time to unfold, not rush to judgment, and certainly not assign racial overtones to the issue.  A Bronze medal in her final event (Balance Beam) would indicate she’s moving in a positive direction.

Diversity is a big part of the Olympic backdrop. 

Athletes represent all races, and countries like the US take advantage of our abundant available athletic diversity.  If only Caucasians were allowed to participate, we’d not enjoy the same level of success.  With Simone Biles out, Suni Kim became the first Hmong-American to earn a gold medal – wow! There’s also a black dude on the Men’s Water Polo team – now that’s progress!  While I don’t care for the concept of racial comparisons, I expect, at the end of the games, we’ll see a breakdown of medals won by races – that’s perhaps reflective of our society in 2021, while at the same time the antithesis of being a representative of your country.

Have you taken note of the clothing worn by various athletes?  Some of the outfits leave “little to the imagination!”  I’ve seen female Muslim athletes wearing extremely conservative gear while others on the track, the beach, and the pool, rock less clothes than you might expect to see in certain gentleman’s “establishments.” Let me make it clear – I’m neither judging nor complaining.  Whatever you feel comfortable in is fine with me.

OK – hopefully, that covers the controversial topics – let’s get down to the actual events themselves.  That is Track and Field; Swimming and Diving; Gymnastics, Water Polo, Wrestling, Weightlifting, Volleyball, etc. — you know, the ones we historically associate with the Olympics.   Some of you no doubt remember when all Olympic athletes had to be amateurs, that was a founding principle of the games and one “most” countries appeared to adhere to for years.  That changed in the early 1970s when the Soviets (who else) and their client states (mainly E. Germany) were accused of paying athletes to train without worrying about making a living while prepping for the games.  Winning was obviously pretty important to them – especially against the dreaded West!  

This came to a head in 1976 but, as most of the world boycotted the 1980 games (believe it or not because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), it wasn’t until the 1984 games, held in Los Angeles, that other nations figured they had to do the same to remain competitive.  I deeply regret that decision. I’m OK providing support to athletes in training, but not to the point of bringing high-paid professionals into the games – such as basketball’s All-NBA (except for one collegiate player) “Dream Team” (1992).  

The desire to win become all-powerful and removed opportunities for amateur/collegiate athletes to compete against such professionals – a sad day for sure.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather see the best collegiate basketball players competing rather than field an all-star team of prima donnas.

Let’s take this a step further – why are sports such as basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, rugby, and soccer (and perhaps others I’ve missed) included in the Olympics in the first place? These shouldn’t be Olympic sports – they have their own highly successful and competitive leagues to recognize their champions.  Perhaps this is all about sponsorship and money – of course, it is.  They even have three on three basketball – shouldn’t that be in the schoolyard or neighborhood park?  They also now have skateboarding, surfing, varied BMX bike events, sport climbing (whatever the hell that is). What’s next? “Cyber” or “drone” sports? And, I’m still in denial over “synchronized swimming” – now identified as “artistic swimming” – Mother of God – water ballet!

Wait, there’s more! How about these multiple “equestrian” events?  Now, plenty of folks love horses (usually to bet on), so I’m not against their inclusion – but do they get medals for their performances?  They appear to be doing most of the work.  What I did think was proper, the brief time I watched of course, was identifying the country of origin of the horse – which generally did not match that of the rider. I’m anticipating some form of future TV commercial decrying the physical condition of these “former” Olympic animals and soliciting supportive animal welfare funds from saps like me.  I don’t think so. So, why haven’t the Saudis pushed for Olympic camel races? 

I’ve got some ideas for potential new events, such as:  Hot-dog eating (we should win that one); pub darts (why not, table tennis is already included); some of the lumberjack efforts (tree-chopping, etc.) and, since so many of the big-time pro sports are already in, how about Olympic NASCAR – I bet my friends here in Florida would like that one and also ask that Bassmaster fishing now be elevated to Olympic status!  

Some of you like to hear the personal stories about the athletes, the commitment of their families,  the absolute dedication of all involved enabling focus and success in specific endeavors – good for you.  I don’t care. Everybody has a personal story – I just want to see the actual competition. So save the story for your memoirs.  That should cut the broadcast time by hours and save money in advertising and potentially lower my cable bill – don’t bet on it.

We’re very fortunate to have such exceptional athletes willing to dedicate their lives to Olympic competitions – they have my enduring respect. I’ve had the pleasure of briefly knowing two American Olympians – a female ice skater and a male track star.  Their absolute focus stands out clearly in my memories – they gave everything they had – most of us couldn’t sustain that level of commitment.  So, enjoy the games, cheer for your favorite athletes and nations, and always remember – this shit is a lot harder than it looks! OK, Boomer, time for Women’s Beach Volleyball, adios for now.

R. L. Holbrook, Interlink Consulting, August 2021

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