Monday, August 16, 2004

Olympic Glory

I love the Olympics. No matter how old I get, I never cease to be moved by the event. This year as I watched the opening ceremony I was even weapier than usual. Perhaps because the world is in a state of such total crap (maybe the world's always been this crappy, but as I get older I'm more aware of it), or perhaps I'm just getting cynical, so that when a genuine reason to have hope for a more cooperative future does come along, it seems just a little more miraculous. After all the horrors I've witnessed on the news since the last Olympic games (and lets be honest, the American media only report a very small percentage of the world's horrors), and after the realization that 99% of the world's wealth and resources are controlled by six greedy bastards in a circle-jerk, watching athletes and their supporters from 202 countries stand together in 1 staduim and applaud each other really does seem like a miracle.

Of course, my love of the games isn't purely from a bleeding-heart, post-modern hippie, world peace perspective. As an athlete I've always had my own personal ambitions of olympic glory. The conscience-cricket on my shoulder can attest that I've fallen asleep more than a few times to visions of medals and cheering fans in my head. Which is exactly how I fell asleep on Friday night. I was anticipating a regatta on Saturday, in which I was entered in 3 events, the most I've ever attempted in one day. Naturally, by the time I watched them light the torch, I was convinced I would win every event and spend the evening walking around like Mark Spitz with my flat chest obscured by a pile of gold.

The idealism and energy with which I began Saturday, amplified by the drama taking place in Athens, made the poor sportsmanship of the day's events all the more shattering. I have never before taken part in an athletic even where there was such blatant disregard for fair competition.

Now, I'm not a sore loser. If we fuck up and lose as a result, I say "well, that sucked. We fucked up and lost because of it. Now we know what we need to do better next time." If we row hard and well and try our best and get beaten anyway I say "well, we did our best and got beat by a superior crew. well done, guys. we'll get 'em next time." I do not toss about accusations of cheating to alleviate my personal disappointment. Even now I will not name names of persons or clubs involved because I am aware that I may not know the whole story. Things aren't always as they seem, and I may be (and I frankly hope I am) wrong. Still, it's hard to ignore the stories that nearly every boat from my club told as they came off the water--stories of a biased start-marshall, opponents rowing in crews where they weren't allowed, and the misfortunes of badly located waterfoul.

It's sad when kids see the example set by their selfish elders and mimick their behaviour. It's sad that we can take what should be one of the most pure, fair, and ideal institutions humanity has ever created and twist it at both the local (as I saw on saturday) and international (as the drug accusations surrounding the Greek sprinters demonstrates) levels. I wish I hadn't seen what I saw on saturday. I would rather lose a fair fight than win a rigged one anyday, and it's sad that not everyone feels the same.

But I don't run the world (one of the key global problems), and not everyone agrees with me (another serious flaw of the planet). It's important to remember however, when accusations of doping and biased judging cast a dull shadow on the shining vision of the future the Olympic Games offers, that the vast majority of athletes, coaches, judges, and fans do feel the same way. For every athlete who makes the headlines because of a cheating scandal, thousands more have gone about their business, quietly pouring their mind, body, and soul into their event of choice in complete fairness and total anonymity. It is important to remeber this because it's so easy to become jaded and cynical in the face of constant reports of cheating and corruption, but cynicism and pessimism won't bring the Olympic vision of a cooperative future to fruition. We must, at all costs, maintain the naivete and optimism we had as children. We must continue to believe in the basic goodness of humanity, greatness of heroes, and the possibiltity that the little guy can still take down the giant (WAY TO GO, PUERTO RICO!!!!!). We must continue to believe, because if we don't our own skepticism will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The world is what we make it, and a better world starts with fair play and good sportsmanship in our small, insignificant, everday lives. Let the games begin.

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