Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ah, the Olympics...

Beijing 2008 is well underway, and some athletes' dreams will come true, some won't, and some will likely drop dead of asphyxiation due to the city's terribly polluted air.

Canada's medal count sits at a less than respectable zero after 3 days of competition, but I'm sure many of our athletes have achieved "personal bests". Actually, I don't know, because I haven't spent much time watching.

The Olympics is a strange beast; full of sports that no one usually cares about, but once every four years, everyone pretends that they do. 302 events from 28 sports will be held, including exciting ones like water polo and handball.

See, the dirty secret about the Olympics is that no one really cares about the sports. They care about the medal counts. It's just nationalism expressed through a sporting medium.

That's one problem. Another problem is the inherent absurdity of one outstanding athlete winning 3 or 4 medals for essentially the same event. The American swimmer Michael Phelps, who has already won gold in the Mens 400m Medley, will no doubt win more medals in the 200m, and probably the 800m, and any other event he chooses to compete in. One man will win more medals than entire countries.

Then there's my unshakable suspicion that almost all the top competitors in these events are on the juice. Marion Jones was one recent high-profile case, but there have also been extreme ones like pretty much the entire East German team in 1976. Here is a full list of athletes caught doping at the Olympics. Keep in mind, those are just the ones that have been caught; I believe most of them are smart enough not to.

These things combine to considerably decrease my enjoyment of the games.

And I guess this is as good a time as any to relate one of my favorite historical anecdotes:

[After the Battle of Thermopylae] Xerxes was curious as to what the Greeks were trying to do (presumably because there were so few numbers) and had some Arcadian deserters interrogated in his presence. The answer was that all the other men were participating in the Olympic Games.

When Xerxes asked what the prize for the winner was, "an olive-wreath" was the answer. Upon hearing this, Tigranes, a Persian general, said: "Good heavens, Mardonius, what kind of men are these that you have pitted against us? It is not for money that they contend but for glory of achievement!" (Godley translation)

It seems to me that the modern Olympic games, with the doping and all the money and commercialism, have strayed far from these simple ideals.


SUZANNE said...

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I hope that's okay.

Desmond said...

No problem Suzanne, thanks for the listing!