The Summer Olympics 2004 ended today and I thought I'd write a little about them. I actually watched a great deal of them. Between my two Tivos and the extensive coverage I was able to record all the prime time and much of the day time and late night events, then watch it later fast forwarding through the endless commercials and boring stuff. Sometimes a four-hour block would have only five or ten minutes of "real" coverage (I don't need to watch an entire two hour marathon, for instance). With so many events races that are only decided in the final seconds, why watch all the build-up? Anyway, I managed to watch most of the Olympics and found that I enjoyed much of what I saw. I have an uncle who's anti-competitive: he feels competition breeds contempt and superiority and we shouldn't promote it as a nation. He's also a pacifist and doesn't like the nationalism events like the Olympics promotes. While I understand both of his points, I don't completely agree. If competition is in the right spirit, one of comradeship and friendliness, such as two kids saying, "I'll race you to that tree!" then it's a good thing. It's fun, it's challenging, and it brings out the best in people. Unfortunately little of that spirit remains in the modern Olympics. Where it was once an event for amateur athletes, today an Olympic medal seems mostly something to brag about, an event of huge financial and career consequences. Endorsements and other rewards have made the Olympics bigger than they should be, and thus we have athletes and children who are obssessed with training to the point of sacrificing much of their lives for just a chance at Olympic glory. When winners are measured in microseconds, does that mean so much? Is a gold medal winner proud of having beaten a competitor by one hundredth of a second? On any given day, any of the top ten could beat any other. That the Olympics happen so rarely means that whoever happens to be in form on that day wins. Is that an accomplishment? I find the stories of the underdogs, the ones who compete not for fame or money but simply out of love for the sport or to honor their country to be much more pleasing. Stories like the Bronze medalist from Brazil in the men's marathon, who, when tackled by a deranged fan during the race, got back up and finished, and never once complained that the incident might have cost him the gold. Or the Iraq men's soccer team, who came in unranked but finished a remarkable fourth while powerful soccer countries like Portugal went home early.
Then there's the whole judging controversy in the gymnastics competition. Why don't they just give everyone gold medals and be done with it? The absurdity of judging something so subjective!
While I realize that medals mean a great deal to these athletes, the average person only thinks of the Olympics once every four years, then it's forgotten. Oh, we remember a few names, a few events. But mostly it becomes a blur. Does it really matter who won what? Our country does put a lot of emphasis on winners, too much so, especially in athletics. Athletics ought to be fun, not fail-and-you-die events.
But overall these were a good Olympics. There was fine competition, some excellent examples of good sportsmanship, the occasional controversy, and no terrorist attacks. That's all good. Greece also shined: what an amazing legacy, history, and country! The opening and closing ceremonies were interesting and different, and that's one of the things I most love about the Olympics: that different nations and different people can get together and join hands be one for a while.