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Olympic Thoughts

August 16th, 2008 (01:49 pm)

current mood: contemplative

I have mixed feelings about the Olympics. I'm not a sportsy person in general; as a competitor, my best sport is Scrabble. But I've been watching and enjoying some of the Olympic events in recent days. I do wish the television schedule listed specific times for events, so I could turn it on just to see a sport that interests me. My newspaper's schedule gives blocks of several hours and lists what's coming up during that time. I don't want to sit through hours of beach volleyball and Greco-Roman wrestling while I twiddle my thumbs waiting for the diving competition. I am not one of those people who is obsessed with watching every moment of Olympic Glory.

Things I Like About the Olympics
I like the idea of sporting events providing a healthy spirit of competition and an opportunity for international understanding. I've been impressed by the instances of good sportsmanship I've seen during some of the events. Many of the participants have inspiring stories of overcoming overwhelming odds in order to hone their skills and rise to that level of competition. The opening ceremonies blew me away. And of course, the world-class skills of some of the athletes are just staggering.

I'm so glad I stayed up late the other night to watch the individual female gymnasts compete. The judges seemed to be grading Nastia and Shawn on a much harder scale than the non-American competitors. But then both teens turned in breathtaking performances on the floor exercises in the final round, the best of their careers. And even the pickiest, most biased judges couldn't find anything to fault. They ended up winning well-deserved gold and silver.

And then there were the swimming competitions, where nobody can come close to Michael Phelps. The man is part fish.

Things I Hate About the Olympics
Watching the Olympics also drives me crazy at times. Winning the gold has become so important to a lot of the athletes, their countries, and their fans that it has driven out all other concerns. The use of steroids is one symptom of this "anything to win" attitude. And how about the commentators who use the word "failure" to describe an athlete who won silver instead of gold? Yes, that's failure, all right, being named the second-best in the world at your chosen sport.

Sexism still runs rampant in the sports world. Did you catch the beach volleyball? The women players wear skimpy bikinis. My husband insists this is because of the hot, humid weather in Beijing. Right. The men are playing in the same weather, and they wear loose t-shirts and long shorts. And athletes in every outdoor sport are competing in the same weather, and they wear clothing that is appropriate to serious athletes. The bikinis are not about the weather; they're about sexist exploitation. And they want us to take this seriously as a sport?

I liked the Olympics better when only amateurs were allowed to compete. I'm much more inspired and impressed by an athlete who makes it to the Olympics while holding down a regular job, raising a family, and worrying about gym fees and equipment costs like the rest of us than I am by an athlete who makes millions of dollars in endorsements and can afford private gyms and the best coaches. It doesn't seem fair that the first group has to compete against the second. In the sports where a lot of professionals compete, amateurs seldom stand a chance. And when you field a basketball team made up of prima donna superstars who make millions playing as pros, their palpable sense of entitlement and superiority leaves no room in the arena for warm, fuzzy feelings about international cooperation.