Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Unqualified Thoughts On The Olympic Games

11,000 athletes came marching in from 205 countries; a great geography lesson. How sweet the sight. Everyone looks to be in fine fettle. Why not let these deserving people resolve the world’s woes while their fettle is still fine. This could be a planetary council, not just a pageant. The opening ceremony can be followed, a day or two later, by the closing ceremony, with a variety of exhibitions in between. Why break the spell of camaraderie with nit-picking competition?

This one wobbles, that one bobbles. They’re all great. Gymnasts go up against one another not to test their agility and strength but to measure their nerves, grace under pressure. They can all do what they do but some can’t with millions of eyes on them.

Many go home in disgrace because a Bulgarian or Indonesian judge detects a wiggle. Their eyes see only flaws. Gold and bronze are separated by the length of a grimace when one fails to nail the landing. I’m sorry, rooting for a Chinese or Russian to not stick a landing, is not my idea of time well-spent.

Why should synchronicity be celebrated? I have trouble getting both legs into my pants without holding on to something. How can anyone lose a race by one-hundredth-of-a-second? Humans don’t live with this sort of clock. The next time I cut a melon shall I worry about the perfection of the quadrants? How fast can I tie my shoes? If I travel at the speed of light will I answer the door before the knock?

On the other hand…………. without ratcheting up my jingoism it seems unnatural not to root for us against them, whoever them, might be. Tribal as it is, we are persuaded that not only our athletes but our back-stories are better than their back-stories. Aren’t we adorable and humble while they’re so mean-spirited and arrogant.

Competition is hard-wired, to an extent, especially if it is sublimated into sport. Let them go at it with all their zeal. We can only be in awe at their effort. They sacrificed their best years to get here and now they are an attenuated form of gladiators. It beats fighting a war.


And if they want to sacrifice their livers with performance-enhancing-substances, it is all part of new technology. Why not let the next best thing just happen? Today we have a meta-Olympic competition between the Cheat labs versus the Detection labs. Every athlete at today’s Olympics could probably beat their counter-part of sixty years ago. State-of-the-art equipment, better training, advanced surgical procedure, enlightened nutrition. Why not faster, higher, longer through chemistry?

We want to see ourselves extended, with broken records beyond what we ever thought possible. In Baseball, the elbow injury that ended Koufax’ career is now routinely repaired surgically and the pitchers throw even faster as a result. We deny the edge some technology offers but embrace other means.

Like most practices in society the Olympics are a trade-off. Yes, they are about branding and endorsements, about nationalism and squabbles. But also a spectacle to behold, a gathering of nations planting flags on one soil, offering a glimpse of universality. Imagine the possibilities if countries could extend their reach and move beyond their previous best like the athletes do.... even with a wobble or two.

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