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Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Olympics and their antiquated games have returned

Friday kicks off a familiar quadrennial tradition: trying to figure out what Bob Costas will wear on a given night, while marveling at his encyclopedic knowledge of badminton. This practice may or may not include bouts of cheering for the underdog Belgian men’s national field hockey team, hoping that the country can finally get off the gold-medal schneid. Or, even the occasional urge to position pieces of furniture in the room to recreate the optimal conditions for a gymnastics vault. The latter certainly explains why the Olympics bring about an increase in the number of OR visits concerning various household item-related impalement injuries.

Yes, folks, the five-ringed media circus is back. The Olympic Games have returned. Citius. Altius. Fortius. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that the Latin maxim probably had something to do with watching the world’s greatest athletes on tape-delay in primetime. The Games, where all the nations of the world — the ones that don’t hold some political grudge against the IOC, that is — come together to run, dive, shoot, and walk really fast (sounds like Al Capone’s apocryphal escape from Alcatraz).

At some point during the Opening Ceremony, which will no doubt feature a montage of a fresh-faced Queen Elizabeth II hurling a shot put played over the strains of the title track from “Chariots of Fire,” the realization for athletes all around the world will set in that winning a gold medal is a dream come true. However, melting it out down and selling the metal will be a much more lucrative task, especially for the poor schmoes competing for Greece and Spain. I tried selling that last joke to “The Economist” to no avail.

The Olympics are a remnant from antiquity, when a series of athletic competitions were held in ancient Greece where victorious athletes were feted in their villages upon their return while being bestowed with wreaths and all other kinds of hyperallergenic bling. Flash forward about 2800 years or so, and there have been some changes to the event. Athletes no longer compete in the nude, despite ardent protests; nor are there as many orgies as once believed, unless Hope Solo is telling the truth. Of course, judging some of the sports is still a little fishy, and that has nothing do with the presence of a Trautwig.

The sheer price of the London Olympics cost more bees and honey than a Chelsea rat and mouse. (I think that’s Cockney slang for pretty expensive.) Appropriately enough, England will present to the world the XXX Olympiad, the 3 X’s appropriately what you’d expect to find on a bottle of moonshine. Not only was an Olympic logo conceived which resembles a sketch that would have had Pablo Picasso trembling, but the mascots are two characters that look like Teletubbies if they were designed by someone who sipped some tea laced with harsh psychotropic drugs.

The Summer Games themselves are filled with so many beautiful ironies the likes of which Baron Pierre de Coubertin could not have foreseen (that rhymes if you mispronounce his last name by the way). Neither baseball, nor paper football for that matter, are on the Olympic program yet a sport performed with a hoop and ribbon is. I will personally let you write this column next week if you can, off the top of your head, reel off the events that make up the modern pentathlon. After all, what says modern more than show jumping with a round of pistol shooting and a bout of fencing?

No one would ever accuse the Olympic Committee of over-indulging in practicality. After all, America’s pastimes are outnumbered by events featuring horses. It may be hard to believe, but the Olympiad once featured tug of war, motorboats (no joke), and slow-moving dirigibles (joke). Golf will reappear for the first time in over a century at the next Olympics to partner with sailing, fencing, and some other sports practiced by only the folks who can truly understand why those New Yorker comics are so funny. Yet, baseball and softball were ditched 4 years ago and have yet to return.

One of the great things in particular about the Summer Games, other than the hotly anticipated crowning of the World’s Fastest Man in an endeavor that takes less than 10 seconds (sounds like a typical Friday night to me), is how much camaraderie, nationalism, and competition all coexist for a two-week period. Don’t be fooled by the swimming caps, nose plugs, and hair gel. Those synchronized swimmers are feisty. My letters to Jacques Rogge regarding a men’s competition a la the Robert Smigel SNL skit have gone unnoticed and certainly unappreciated. However, who knew that an egg beater was not only good for your heart but also important for synchro gold?

Race walking is also the frequent domain of late-night fodder every four summers. Before you unleash the salvo of one-liners, consider that competitors must walk between twenty and fifty kilometers (about 12 and 31 miles for the metric system challenged). To put that in perspective, that is about the distance the average sportswriter will walk in a lifetime before opting for a Rascal. I myself was curious to learn more about the sport, perhaps to one day compete at the highest stage. But, I did not, lest race walking entailed traversing stairs, broken escalators, and other manmade encumberances.

While the Winter Olympics usually deserve the distinction of hosting the greatest amount of sporting events presumably borne out of a drunken bet — why any sane individual would compete in something called skeleton is beyond the scope of rational human thought — its summer counterpart has had its share of Aha! moments in this vein. A lot of the field events have endowed modern civilization with head scratchers. Staking one’s livelihood to a precarious 17-foot long pole with one stiff end (no giggling, please) to vault up into the air and onto a foam mat seems be one of the things that separates us from the animals. And that is not a flattering assessment.

How about the steeplechase? There aren’t a whole lot of events that get people’s motors running more than watching elite runners clip a barrier and end up taking a bath in a pit of water. Credit the Brits for that one.

The Olympic Games are only two days away folks. Prepare for the high drama, the heroics… the handball?



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