The beautiful thing about the Olympics is that we can all watch people pursuing their dreams. It’s inspiring, moving, and breathtaking, all at once.
And at the same time, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of the fact that the pursuit of dreams is exactly what the Olympics is all about.
The modern Olympic movement was founded by Jacques Coubertin in 1892. He was a French citizen who decided that France’s poor military showing was at least partly a result of a “lack of vigor” on the part of its soldiers. Having determined that exercise and sports were the key to rallying the populace, Coubertin proposed reviving the ancient Olympic Games. Beyond invigorating the military, Coubertin’s dream was that the modern Olympics would unify the world.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
Since 1892, there have been some number of Olympiads. I can’t tell you how many, because ever since we went to the every-two-years model, I’ve lost count. Now they refer to Olympiads by year, not by number. It’s too bad, really. Back in the day the Olympics happened every four years. Nowadays, it’s every two years, with Winter and Summer alternating. I imagine this decision was made to get more people to watch more Olympics, and to spread the wealth generated by the Olympic Games to more cities and more countries around the globe.
Personally, I think by splitting the games we’ve lost some of the grand scope and occasion. Also, it seems that there is not all that much money to be made in hosting the Olympics, and that may have gotten worse since going to the summer/winter split as well. After a country gets done building new facilities and paying for all the organizational infrastructure to get the Olympics up and running, there’s not much profit left over – if any.
And, contrary to many a hope, Olympic facilities are not that much of a tourist draw once the Games have come to a close. In fact, National Geographic has a feature story on what happens to Olympic facilities; the headline is Rotting, Renovated, Repurposed. And that says it all.
On top of that, regular folks are finding it difficult – not to mention expensive, and even impossible – to get tickets to London’s Olympic venues. Yet a scandal is brewing; hundreds of seats are vacant at reportedly sold out events. Apparently, members of the Olympic “family” are failing to show up for reserved seating at prime events, leaving empty seats in plain sight while would-be spectators can’t get a ticket.
The International Olympics Committee (IOC) and its subsets, such as the US Olympic Committee (USOC), rigidly protect a corner on the use of the Olympics term, too.
It’s somewhat old hat to realize that the IOC has gone after a number of organizations for using the term “Olympics,” no matter how innocently or reverently. This year, there was a brouhaha in the knitting community when the USOC got huffy with the popular knitting social website Ravelry for using the term “Ravelympics” to encourage knitters to cast on and complete a project within the Summer Olympics timeframe.
Only another knitter would get the reference, because every true knitter has a vast stockpile of partially finished sweaters, single knitted socks, and cast on lace scarves all abandoned in favor of The Next Big Project. Join the Ravelympics! Actually finish something you start before you lose the pattern and forget where you left off!
But the USOC failed to get it. It issued a nasty cease and desist letter that included the following epithetical remark:
We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games. In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.
Did you hear that roar? That is the vocal outrage of millions of knitters who take pride in their afghans, scarves, and sweaters and who do not appreciate (to put it mildly) the dismissive suggestion that knitting “denigrates” the hard work of athletes. I’m a knitter, and I really like athletes. I even kind of revere some of them. Ravelympics and wanting to start and finish a sweater while watching diving and gymnastics does not change that one bit. Do I really need to apologize for my knitting goals offending Michael Phelps? I kind of doubt it.
Finally, before I close this mishmash of a post, allow me to vent for a moment about my biggest Olympic pet peeve: medal counts.
The networks seem to have some locked-in assumption that people who watch the Olympics are anxiously awaiting the latest count of medals per country; and that more Americans will watch if more Americans win. It’s like an arms race, only without the potential nuclear destruction. Counting medals and comparing countries is downright contrary to Coubertin’s vision of sport uniting the world. It’s jingoistic and divisive.
And just to get completely incendiary on you, do you know who pioneered the medal count mentality?
Hitler. He was out to prove the superiority of the Aryan race back in 1936. Counting medals was his way of keeping score. As it turned out, the count didn’t totally go in his favor, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, the Olympics are not about proving one country superior over another. They’re not even about winning medals. They’re about competing, about being sportsmanlike, and about meeting on a nonviolent even playing field. We give medals to pay tribute to the effort of the winner, not to turn everyone else into a loser.
Now let’s get out there and watch the finest athletes in the world living their dreams. Let’s be inspired. And let’s not count medals, okay?