I’ll confess. I don’t watch the Olympics. I don’t see the pomp and circumstance of the event to be reason enough to sit in front of a television and watch sports I don’t pay attention to JUST because its the Olympics. But I can remember a time when I was younger that the hoopla of the 84 LA Games resonated – the magic of so many nations united through sport was thrilling. The fireworks and magic of the opening night meant I was allowed to stay up way past my bedtime to watch Lionel Ritchie sing – “All Night Long” – sadly a true thrill at the time.
But today – I’d rather get on my bike, read to my daughter, or watch paint dry.
Perhaps its the media that killed the Olympics for me. Every four years, reporters create in depth stories of the trials and tribulations of the particular media darlings they are ‘promoting’ for fan favorite. My stomach turns to hear another sob story. Not because many of the stories behind the athletes aren’t inspiring, but because they appear so artificial, so contrived, that I feel like an insulin shot after each interview.
I happened to be a hotel this past weekend and turned on the television just in time to see Dana Torres win silver both for her 50m and the team relay, and the men’s relay with all eyes on Phelps to break ol’ Spitzies record. Two great Olympic stories to be sure. A 40 year old mom returning for another Olympics and still kicking ass. Love it! A modest, talented swimmer taking on an entire nation’s pressure to stay focused and do something completely singular. Thrilling to witness.
But in between those two races was the mens 1500 meter. Aussie swimmer, Grant Hackett was the focus of the race. Going for a record of his own ‘the first male swimmer in Olympic history to clinch three titles in a row’, and the Austrailan nation was on tenderhooks.
Now this is not a short race – 30 laps with 3 commercial breaks DURING the race. Its like the marathon of swimming. Yet, the media covered Hackett and only Hackett throughout the race. Yet, in the end, much to everyone’s disbelief, Tunisian, Oussama Mellouli got in front at the last lap and took the gold, and the record, away from Hackett. Hardly more than a passing mention was made of the fact that Mellouli won the first ever medal for Tunisia in swimming. EVER. Just a blip tarnishing the media’s build up for Hackett’s pre-ordained moment of Gold.
Yet, more than the media…the big Olympic dream buster is simply the debt. Each Olympic host site spends billions of dollars on venues, infrastructure, etc. At what price? Montreal – who hosted the ’76 summer games – finally cleared its debt in 2006. THIRTY years of debt hung around Montreal’s neck like a dead goose. When you consider the money put into the Beijing Games 32 years later, comes to around $40 BILLION, and that this is a country that has severe educational, environmental, and poverty issues, is the debt taken on to show its ‘best face’ to the world worth the long term damage to its people?
Instead of countries racking up enormous debt, why can’t we start ‘re-using’ Olympic sites for future games? Recycling venues would be cost effective, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. Use that money to make improvements in infrastructure, poverty, education, or even sports development programs. Things that would enrich a country, making it stronger from within so that its citizens can compete not only in the sports arena, but on the world stage of economics, culture, and environmental issues that truly unites nations and breaks down the barriers between them.