Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thoughts on the Summer Olympics

Lisa and I are watching the closing ceremonies. Color me impressed. I am far less impressed by NBC's coverage. On the evening news tonight, there was a story on America's "unsung heroes" of these games, those who won gold medals in other sports.

ABC was the network that broadcast the Olympics when I was younger, and they showed us far more sports than NBC does. They spent less time personalizing the athletes and more time showing us just why they represented their countries in competition. Because of that, ABC wouldn't have had to have a special report on their newscast before the closing ceremonies.

Lisa was terribly bored in the hour before the closing ceremonies started. NBC showed highlights from the gold medal round of men's indoor volleyball, between Brazil and the USA. I played just enough volleyball when I was in college to have a real appreciation for the sport. The Brazilians showed flashes of brilliance, as befits a team that had won a couple of world championships, but it was the Americans' turn to pull out the victory. Surprisingly, the announcers were not jingoistic; they respected the flow of the game and the spectacular skills of both teams.

The Olympics are hailed as a unifying force, as something that is above politics. I'm not sure that this is really how most of the world sees them. For a couple of weeks every four years, people do stop and pay attention to the games, but they do not live them the way many people do professional sports. Of course Olympic athletes, coaches, and organizers live them, but as far as I can tell, the Olympics divide people as much as pull them together. As for the games being above politics, did you know that the "tradition" of the Olympic flame, as well as the huge opening and closing ceremonies, originated with the 1936 Olympics? The ones held in Berlin? When Adolph Hitler was the leader of the German state? Remember 1972, when the Black September terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes? Remember 1980, when the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? Remember 1984, when the Soviets retaliated by boycotting the Los Angeles games?

I'd love to see the Olympic games be both unifying and apolitical. This is too simplistic to ever work, I know, but I think it would be a fantastic thing if the Olympics were permanently held in Greece, and if only amateurs could compete in the games. This might reduce the influence of politics in the games. If nothing else, the debate would be interesting.

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