Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Midas Touch

It's all about the Gold.

I hate to admit it, but as a former (much former!) athlete, I've lost my taste for the Olympics.

Well, that's a bit misleading. I've actually lost my taste for following the Olympics on TV or in the newspapers or other media outlets.

As an All-League/All-City athlete way back in my youth - 25 years way back to be precise - I remember the joy of competition. Yes, I played to win, and I was (I believe) a fierce competitor - albeit always a sportsman. I wanted to win - but not at all costs. And when the other guy, or other team, won... well that usually meant they were the better athletes that day. But that didn't diminish the thrill of the competition for me, nor the sheer love of sport.

And to be honest, the local media was happy to report on our accomplishments, regardless of the outcome. It was fun to be an athlete.

But not today.

Today, what we see in the media is a travesty. As far as I can tell, there are only three sports any more in the Winter Olympics: Figure Skating, Downhill Skiing and Hockey. That's all we hear about. That's all we read about.

And that's all we see on television - hour after painful hour of figure skating. Preliminaries, technical, short program, long program... we get it all.

What about the other sports? We have hundreds of athletes at the Olympic games and yet, we will watch two weeks of television and hear the names of maybe 15... if we're lucky. Maybe we'll hear about another sport if an American wins the gold - or America dominates (like the "new" sport of snowboarding). But all in all, the Olympic coverage was written long before the games ever started.

But what's even worse than completely ignoring the majority of athletes and sports involved in the games is America's new found philosophy of "Gold or Goat". You either win a gold medal, or you must have screwed up. And if you were never in contention for a gold medal, then why on earth are you there in first place?

Let's look at a few of today's top reports on the Olympics from the adoring and supportive American media

From ESPN:
Alpine skiing starts with slow race, a tepid crowd - and no medals for the United States.
Out of eleven stories on ESPN's Olympic home page, eight were about gold medals - either winning them, or not winning them. The lead story:
Stymied in his attempt for Downhill Gold, Bode Miller....
As I recall, Bode Miller wasn't favored in downhill, and his own comments were that he couldn't care less about medaling in the downhill. So, how exactly was Bode "stymied in his attempt" at a gold medal?

The most prominent item on ESPN's Olympic Site: Medal Tracker

From Sports Illustrated:

Poll of the Day: Which U.S. gold medalist have you found the most captivating?
And then, this little gem from Newsweek/MSNBC:
If those of us on the bus (including folks from The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, USA Today and more) had any sense that overheating and coming up well short of the goal were going to be the themes of the day, we might've called it quits, too. Instead, we Olympic lemmings waited an hour for a replacement bus and arrived at the men's downhill with an hour to spare. All that schlepping for ... what, exactly?

In the first marquee events of these games, the U.S. Ski Team, which has labeled itself "Best in the World" whiffed big time. Bode Miller skied well but finished just 11/100ths of a second off the podium, settling for fifth. Daron Rahlves, who was anointed the favorite by the American media on the strength of a blistering practice run, finished a distant 10th - his second straight disappearing act in an Olympic downhill.
Ouch! Can we be any more condescending to an athlete who has trained for years to get to this event and has competed with all his soul, while these reporters have done what exactly? Gotten an all expense paid trip to Italy to be a bunch of asses?

I could go on and on about the endless television coverage rants, and newspaper reports about American athlete's "disappointments, and heart break, and disaster, and embarrasment, and... all for having not won medals - and in most cases, specifically for having not won Gold.

We have become the East German athletes of the 70s. It's all about winning. Second place is no better than last. Sport, teamwork, participation, sportsmanship, years of commitment, practice and dedication mean nothing if you haven't brought home the precious gold.

And what of our athletes who participate in the games but were never meant to place higher than middle of the pack? As far as the media is concerned they should have stayed home. They're not worthy of any mention, much less any actual coverage of their sport or their achievement. The media implies, by its omission, that it doesn't understand why an athlete would even compete if they have no chance of winning. And they certainly have no intention of covering these silly mediocre athletes.

Yes, that's what we're telling them all - make no mistake about it. If you don't win, you've lost. There is no playing the game that counts. There is nothing to be happy about. And if you have no chance of winning, well then you weren't any good to begin with.

We Americans have forgotten what the Olymipcs are all about. It's about the athlete. It's about the competition. And it's about Sport itself.

What a shame for all our athletes who won't win gold. They should be celebrated for their achievements as much as anyone who wins gold. But in reality they will be labeled as losers - athletes who couldn't win. Athletes who let us down simply by doing their best.

Is it really any wonder why we lost our seat on the IOC?



At 3:44 PM, Blogger Bob P said...

This simply reflects an overall shift in our entire culture toward an "ends justify the means" life philosophy. It's apparent in sports, in business, in schools, in politics.

Like you, I never was comfortable with the admiration shown toward Lombardi's famous attitude of "Winning isn't everything - it's the only thing." But this has been our attitude toward the Olympics for quite some time. Hence, the "dream teams" and the allowance of professional athletes on our teams.

You're absolutely right - it's reprehensible of the press to reinforce this corruption of the purer ideals of athletic competition.


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