The first Olympics I remember was staged in Rome, in 1960. I was coming up on my senior year of high school, a complete non-jock, non-fan of any competitive sport, aside from Indians baseball and a little Cleveland Barons Hockey.
The evening news on NBC was 15 minutes, split between Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. There was little to learn about the Rome Olympics, though I do remember a certain amount of awed reporting about a Negro boxer from Louisville, Kentucky, named Cassius Marcellus Clay, coming home with a gold medal. It was good news to America.
Only later would that Olympian lose the adulation of Americans by converting to Islam, getting rid of his "slave name," and throwing away his gold medal. Worse...there followed his uttering the famously prosecutable declaration that he wasn't gonna go to Vietnam.
Why? Because "No Vietcong ever called me nigger".
So, tonight they will walk around the track in the biggest venue of the Beijing Olympiad, wearing patently ridiculous matching outfits (Oooohh, those kyoot hats.) in this great festival of competition and brotherhood, and excellence, and striving, and humble acceptance of the laurels awarded to the victors.
I don't want to know who won, who ran, who stumbled, who got interviewed the most, who was most up-close-and-personal. I don't much care about the agony of defeat (Do they still show that hapless--and probably headless-- skier wiping out on the jump?) nor the thrill of victory.
A whole bunch of Olympic athletes are straight arrow, macrobiotic, drug-free, idealistic, hard-working, monomaniacal strivers. To them, I say good luck, and have a good time.
And, then, there's that whole different bunch of them who are juiced on a variety of steroids...and uppers...and downers...and designer cocktails of performance-enhancers...not to mention Bovine Growth Hormone, (the BGH crowd are clearly the greatest performers, though the recurring problem is getting them to come out of the shade to line up for the start). The Olympics has come to signify nothing so much as the pharmaceutical route to glory and bucks.
Who is juiced? Who is going it alone on sheer will and guts and Wheaties? Who is relying on a little help from his/her friends in the laboratory? Who knows?
I don't want to observe the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, only to learn later that the race was finally decided only after days and weeks and months and years of comparative/competitive urinalysis.
I'm not watching.
And maybe I'll be missing something. Something like the maturation of Muhammad Ali, something like the John Carlos/Tommie Smith declaration from the winners' stand that there are some things even more important than bringing home the Gold and the Bronze, and the Green.
I'll take my chances. Wake me when it's over.
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- Jim Bouman
- Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.