Anybody miss the Olympics yet? It’s been more than a week now, and I am glad the Olympics are over. There was little joy in them. The closing felt like a mercy killing.
The absurdity of holding the Games at all when in most countries people suffer under various restrictions was enough. Was this all really, really necessary, now? The silliness of Japan keeping the “2020” on all the signage and the announcers calling them the “2020 Games” was cynical. Japan barring foreign tourists while allowing in athletes to live like hermits so they could pay off TV contracts (NBC alone presold over $1.25 billion in advertisements) was even more cynical.
Everyone play acting like all this was normal even as only 22 percent of Japanese wanted the games to happen was the most cynical thing of all. It was like Barack’s birthday party, everything hypocritical about Covid rolled into one event — how can gathering athletes from around the world, 20 percent of them unvaccinated, not be a super-spreading event? Quiet now, and go about your business, Citizen.
The idea of holding events like the opening ceremonies in an empty stadium created new frontiers of absurdity. People waving at empty seats, fireworks shot off with no one to watch them. It would have been better to have done the whole event in a studio in front of a green screen, the way some knuckleheads think the moon landings were faked.
With all the world’s problems, somehow only Team USA had so much political commentary to share. It seems racism is only a thing in America, and only black (American) lives matter much. That they backed it all up with so many dreary performances made them seem like petulants. It is really telling when the biggest story from the Games was about someone quitting, not someone competing.
All the self-proclaimed victims along the way, same thing. They might have dropped out with their lifelong issues a few months ago and given someone else the chance to compete instead of waiting to do it on international media. If it’s really a personal matter don’t announce it on TV then ask to be left alone. No one needs your awareness raising anyway, we all get it by now. A lot of us are depressed about our jobs, too.
Funny, but being a green-haired shot putter does not give you any special insights into society. Your job is literally just to throw a heavy thing, so just do that and be quiet. And a note to all those protesting: black athletes have been protesting against the same things at the Olympics since the 1960s. According to them, not much has changed so they have to keep up their resistance. That might be a hint to how effective the protests are.
It wasn’t any better in the media. ESPN’s William Rhoden said he couldn’t enjoy the opening ceremony because the American flags reminded him of the Capitol riot. “I saw a lot of, you know, U.S. flags.”
Same for all the extra-virtue of winning something while gay. That is soooooo 1980s. Gay people have been winning and losing since the Greeks invented the Olympics, we just didn’t have to have it rubbed into our faces as some sort of extra special achievement that straight medalists can only envy. Same for women and trans people; each victory does not really mean something significant in the advancement of human rights. Everything does not always need to be about social engineering all the time.
Same for other forms of suffering. Most athlete profiles focused on how hard it was training with a single parent or a dead puppy or as the only ____ on your team. Does the U.S. Olympic Committee screen for miserable biographical details as part of the selection process? Do athletes who just work really hard at their sport hire consultants to gin up bad childhood experiences the way rich high school kids suddenly start volunteering at the end of junior year so they can write weepy college entrance essays about giving back?
Media, stop telling us a kid whose family had enough money to move cross-country so he could work with a specific coach (elite training in Olympic gyms can cost $500 a month, plus about $1,000 a month for coaching), or whose parents spent the $100,000 a year needed to train as an Olympic swimmer, overcame adversity.
The media might however ask why a parental decision to hyper-train a child without their informed consent from age 3 into an ubermensch gymnast, messing with her growth along the road to sacrificing her childhood to Mommy and Daddy’s show pony dreams, is not a form of child abuse. And what happens to these children, raised to excel at an obscure sport? Is there some island they are sent to to live out their days because except for the tiny handful who endorse something most are never heard from again. This bizarro-world running Matrix-like just below the surface of our own is enough reason to shut down the Olympic forever.
And enough with the representation thing. As a kid the athlete I looked to for representation was Jesse Owens, the black runner who wrecked real Nazis and their myth of racial superiority simply by running faster. He and I did not look alike, but I did not care because what mattered was his courage and heart, not his skin color, something even a 12-year-old was able to figure out. Fast forward to 2021, um, the 2020 Games, and Mattel is called out by the “Asian community” (i.e., a couple of bored influencers on Twitter) for not making its Asian Olympic Barbie look Asian enough. And only three months after Asian Heritage Month in May! Oh well, another lost generation.
But as much as any of that, the Olympic were… boring. With the time difference the live TV coverage ended up focusing on sports like kayaking that few follow. Endless heats repeat and repeat, tiny heads in kayaks moving from the right side of the screen to the left for a few seconds. Other junk sports like surfing and skateboarding simply filled time. A whole catechism of points and ratings was invented to allow judging simply to shoehorn these pastimes into the Games, presumably to attract an audience of “young consumers” unlikely to be watching network television anyway. To get karate into the Games, the fighters were punished for fighting too hard. Pull your punches, kids, that’s the new Olympic spirit.
There is little joy in any “sport” that depends as much on technology as athletic skill. The fastest (i.e., most expensive) Olympic bicycles cost $80,000, suggesting a rider can buy his way into a higher place finish. But that’s nothing compared to shooting. Professional shooters in training run through $7,000 a day in ammunition. An Olympic rifle can cost $300,000. Sailboats run $500k, a horse like Springsteen’s $100k.
And that’s before we get into the real money of developing performance enhancing substances that can slide under current testing. Like bodybuilding pre-Schwarzenegger, look at some old black and white photos of the Olympics, where all the very best athletes had rounded, in-scale muscles. Where did the over-broad shoulders in women’s swimming and the blocky square heads of juiced up champions come from anyway? The idea of pure amateur athletes went out of fashion years ago I know, but now the Olympics is a financial competition.
And a final note to the media: the Cold War ended three decades ago. Enough with national medal counts. Our current state of the planet needs more nationalism to promote harmony and world peace?
Many of us are tired of all this. At this point, waiting four years isn’t a long enough break. What? It’s actually only three years until the next summer games, Paris 2024, because Tokyo was a year late? Oh joy.
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.