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Feel Free to Delay the Olympics Again

If the Tokyo Games are the new normal do we really need to keep doing this?

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 people in most countries suffer under various restrictions was enough. Was this all 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 pre-sold 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 Obama’s birthday party, everything hypocritical about Covid responses 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 a new frontier 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.

With all the world’s problems, somehow only Team USA had much political commentary to share. It seems racism is only a thing in America, and only black American lives matter much. That the athletes backed all this up with dreary performances made them seem petulant. It is really telling when the biggest story from the Games was about someone quitting, not someone competing.

The self-proclaimed victims might have dropped out 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 and 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.

There’s no extra virtue in winning something while gay. That is so 1980s. Gay people have been winning and losing since the Greeks invented the Olympics, when it wasn’t some sort of extra special achievement. Same for women and trans people; each sporting event 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.

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 a note to all protestors: 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.

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.

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.”

Most athlete profiles focused on how hard it was training with a single parent or a dead puppy or as the only fill in the blank on your team. Does the U.S. Olympic Committee screen for miserable biographical details as part of the selection process? Do the athletes hire college entrance essay consultants? 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.

However, the media might ask why a parental decision to hyper-train a child who cannot give informed consent into an ubermensch gymnast, messing with her growth, and 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 where they can live out their days? Most are never heard from again.

But as much as any of those reasons to object, the Olympics were boring. With the time difference, the live TV coverage ended up focusing on sports—like kayaking—that few follow. 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 $500,000, and a horse like Springsteen’s $100,000.

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, 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. We need more of that sort of 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 PeopleHooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japanand Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.



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