| The summer Olympics are back and While I truly enjoyed them for most of my life, I can say that my interest in them over the past two decades have seriously waned. For one thing, the opening and closing ceremonies have become so elaborate and so overblown that it is often difficult to tell whether you are actually watching the games or some spectacular Disney event. While I'm not adverse to a little pomp and circumstance in the Olympics, I can't help feeling that the greatest sporting competition on earth has somehow morphed into he greatest entertainment competition on earth with the competition between hosting countries to put on a good show becoming more meaningful than the competition between athletes. When I was younger I don't recall celebrities being dragged into the business from every corner of the hosting country the way they do now. The Olympics are supposed to be about the ultimate in physical achievement in sports not who rocked the top of the pop charts or made the most money at the box office. What is it about modern society that has created this celebrity worshiping culture and why must they invade every aspect of our lives? More specifically, how do I make them go away?
Even more annoying than the fact that the Olympic opening ceremonies have somehow become something out of Barnum and Bailey, is the events themselves. In the original Olympics the athletes competed in running, jumping, hurdling, wrestling, boxing, javelin and discus throwing, chariot racing and some other things I can't recall. I know there was an event where the competitors had to run a race while dressed in full armor, including a helmet and grieves, carrying a shield and a spear. That could amount to 10-20 lbs of extra weight they had to drag along with them, which may seem odd until you remember that being able to sprint in full armor was particularly useful in a society that was almost always embroiled in wars and skirmishes of one kind or another. If you think running in spandex is tough, try doing it covered in bronze.
While the original Olympics were pretty stripped down and basic, I can't help thinking our modern version borders on absurd. Badminton, jumping around with scarves and hula hoops? Really? Even worse, the so-called sport of dressage, or horse ballet, where the horse prances around doing all the work and the rider goes home with the medal. In fact, what's up with all the horsey related stuff? Chariot racing was big back in the day but I can understand that because it took a lot of courage and incredible skill to stand on a flimsy wooden platform on wheels without tires and convince four horses to run together at break neck speeds while attempting to not actually break your neck. It was considered a warrior's skill and the drivers had to be extremely strong to control the horses and survive the race. But horse ballet? Horses jumping over fake fences? Did anyone ask the horses if they wanted to be in the Olympics? And are the riders actually athletes? Most of them look like they could be felled by a well aimed cucumber sandwich. Synchronized swimming and diving? Are you kidding me? How do you even get into those things? Does anyone actually want to be a synchronized diver when they grow up? And if being in good shape and doing things at the same time qualifies as an Olympic event, I say we have a synchronized high-kick event and bring in the Rockettes from Radio City Music Hall. Those girls would be a shoe-in for the gold. How about ballet dancers? If you know anything about it you realize that those folks are phenomenal athletes and can do all sorts of stuff together and with perfect timing. If we call ice skating and ice dancing sports than we certainly can call ballet a sport. Ballet dancers train harder and are as fit as any athlete alive.
Despite my annoyance with some Olympic events, my greatest disappointment has to do with the behavior of coaches, teams, and athletes. How many people so far have been eliminated for cheating, trying to manipulate the standings, or some other skullduggery? Athletes have thrown hissy fits, walked out of events, engaged in twitter idiocy, been arrested for being drunk and disorderly, played around and cheated like your average American congressman, and generally behaved badly with more frequency than I can remember occurring in the past. On the other hand, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they are behaving just like they have always behaved but care a lot less about being caught at it. The original Olympics may have been light on the events but they had one thing we seem to have thrown away with the chariot races honor. Win or lose, it meant nothing without honor. Now, winning is everything and doing it seems a great deal more important than how you do it whether in the events or the opening and closing ceremonies. Oh, and he who has the most celebrities wins.