Bob Foley: The thrill is gone | Columns
The Olympics were underway. I saw something about controversy with spectators, virus testing, fines for not wearing skinny socks, mental health issues, disrespect for national pride. Business as usual.
I remember a movie about Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was a track and field Native American who, after winning medals at the turn of the 20th century, had them withdrawn.
At that time, Olympians were only allowed as amateurs. No professionals. Apparently Thorpe supported himself over the summer to play a little ball for a semi-professional league and earn a few bucks. This apparently made him a professional and disqualified him for the Olympics. His gold was taken from him. Years later, further examination concluded that the time he was paid for was not long enough to disqualify him and that some sort of rewards reinstatement was effected. Small consolation for an athlete considered by some to be the best of all time.
How far things have gone.
Now children are professionally prepared for specific Olympic events in a certain coming year, starting early.
Olympic training centers use the latest technology to examine every aspect of a potential participant’s abilities and fitness.
Some Olympic swimmers smoke weed to achieve a mellow state.
It all comes down to the evolution of amateurs participating in world-class competitions to finely tuned professional shows. Many events are ruled by tiny margins. The days of the devoted hobbyist are over.
With large stakes, corporate involvement and huge investment in infrastructure, individual achievements seem secondary to Olympic goals. “Faster, Higher, Stronger” has faded into more television, taxpayer-funded facilities, and whiny athletes who have some pretty weird ways to show their respect for the country that backed them. This time around I saw at least one athlete complaining that it would be difficult to compete at their best without a full house. Whining should result in immediate disqualification.
It is time to rethink the structure of the Games. Here are some ideas.
No judged events. Supposedly assessed against specific criteria, there is always controversy in any event judged. If you need judges, go.
Horse ‘dancing?’ When jousting was a way of settling disputes it might have had some value, but today all riding equipment comes exclusively from the world of the financial elite. Faded away.
Golf? At the Olympic games ? Faded away.
Baseball? An Olympic sport? Faded away.
Basketball? Faded away.
Rapids in a kayak? I don’t know if it’s still with us, but no. Faded away.
Badminton? The way the participants hit the birdie is impressive but an Olympic sport? Faded away.
Shoot with a BB pistol? An Olympic sport? Skateboarding, BMX biking, surfing, beach volleyball … Lots of events to refer to extreme games with the sponsors of alcohol companies and no complaints about butt-floss bikinis.
The only permitted events would be those regulated by time, distance, number – in other words, only objectively quantifiable events.
To keep things simple, everyone would wear the same solid color, uniform outfits. Players get a number regardless of luck or suspicious numbers. The teams would have their color but no national identification. In a more perfect world, all athletes would be naked, like 2000 years ago.
Any athlete who withdraws from an event for reasons of mental health is immediately disqualified from any other event of the Games. If pressure is an obstacle to participation, the organizers should support the decision to withdraw and not allow any opportunity where the stress could be exacerbated.
Participants would be allowed to participate in games for one year only. Give someone else a chance.
And all these medals have nonsense by country? There are citizens of different countries who participate under the flag of a nation that is not theirs. I don’t think it’s frequent, but it does support the idea of eliminating the counting of national medals.
Medals? OK, you still get a gold for winning, being ‘Numero Uno’. As we seem to like the consolation prizes, the second and third place would receive a piece of paper that reads: First LOSER, Second LOSER, respectively. What happened to the idea that winning isn’t everything? This is the only thing.
Things will never return to the days of Jim Thorpe and amateur athletics, so why pretend these are just games of dedicated athletes doing their best?
Billions spent on infrastructure in cities that rarely recoup the cost, bemoaning all kinds of issues, judges with prejudices, flaky events that don’t belong – all of which contradicts what should be the spirit of dedicated amateurs putting forth their best effort for themselves and attempting to land a 10-year endorsement contract.
What happened to the honor of your image adorning a box of Wheaties?
Bob Foley, a Mansfeild resident, former marine pilot, high school math teacher and engineer, writes here every Friday.