I can’t watch the Olympics…
and I can’t turn away


The Olympics don’t impress me much these days. Actually… they haven’t impressed me much in a few years.

I might need a better word though. Impressed isn’t quite right. It’s the excitement… the anticipation… they’ve kind of become a shoulder shrug of “well, there’s nothing else on” event for me.

Chances are good that the last time I really felt some sort of enthusiasm for them was during Atlanta or Sydney years of the Summer Games. (Winter Games? Geez… the fact that I can’t come up with a year or location should speak volumes.)

A part of it is how many of the athletes being showcased are honestly severely spoiled athletes that are making millions upon millions of dollars with the amateur portion of the equation lost long ago… another part is that holding the Olympics is a joke, with almost every host city abandoning venues and allowing them to crumble while never realizing financial benefits… the International Olympic Committee is an even bigger joke… and the media drives home whatever stories they think will provide a ratings jump.

To a certain extent, we shouldn’t be stunned about what NBC provides to American audiences. Of course the majority of us want to see Women’s Gymnastics and Women’s Figure Skating and Michael Phelps potentially swimming his final competitive laps.

And to be fair, between the main network and the sister-stations NBC has, the coverage options are pretty good. Even if you aren’t looking for the headline making events, there is enough diversity (especially during the summer games) to create a bit of interest for anyone that enjoys sports.

That’s the part that has me watching during the day. I actually look for the curling coverage. And now, I’m enjoying Rugby Sevens and Water Polo and other events that I find far more entertaining than Hope Solo throwing a pampered brat hissy fit because she lost.

The realities are simple enough though… the growing recognition that hosting the Olympics isn’t worth it, where holding a public bonfire to burn billions of dollars would prove a far more sound investment… the cheating and doping and sense of entitlement from many athletes (often more than tolerated, and justthisshortof virtually sanctioned and encouraged by countries)… and the list goes on.

It’s not that I don’t care about the Olympics. Instead, in many cases my frustrations come from how warped things have become. They’re slick and polished and packaged and served up in sound bites and attention grabbing blurbs. We’re told what to like and who to be proud of and why something is shameful and how to react.

What I really enjoy are the stories that aren’t created or forced upon me.

The country of Fiji won its first Olympic medal in these 2016 games. They took home a gold in Rugby Sevens. Fiji is a world powerhouse in the sport. Rio is the first time it has been held as an Olympic event. Six decades, the country has been represented in many Summer and Winter competitions, and no medals until now.

Then there’s Yusra Mardini. She left Syria because of the civil war taking place, and is competing as a swimmer without a designated country under the Olympic flag. As part of her escape from Syria and travels to Germany, she was on a boat in the Aegean Sea. According to reports I’ve read, the boat was loaded with far more people than it should have been carrying, the motor died and the boat began to sink. So, Mardini and a few others got into the water and swam… swam while pushing the boat for over three hours to eventual safety.

I love learning about stories like these. They show true moments of incredible human accomplishment. And, unfortunately, for the most part the Olympics long ago left that aspect behind.

Recently, the Greg Louganis documentary Back on Board was on television. I saw the entire thing a while ago, and I watched part of it again. If you haven’t seen it… check it out. It’s amazing how twisted and difficult sorting out the Olympics actually can be.

One of the greatest Olympians of all time… one of the greatest American athletes of all time… in so many ways pushed aside because of perception and marketing concerns. (Yes, they point out he never got a Wheaties box… which actually changed when Wheaties and parent company General Mills responded to criticism and petitions and created a legacy series of boxes featuring Louganis, Edwin Moses and Janet Evans.)

And yet, as the documentary equally showed, Louganis dearly wanted to be involved and asked to contribute to the U.S. team again. At one point he recounts his involvement as an advisor to the dive team, saying that when he was approached about what it would take to get him to participate he responded that no one had ever asked.

The point is, there is a way to find salvation in the Olympics. I don’t believe it is a failed concept. The difficulty is that the first step to solving a problem is recognizing there’s a problem. And when money is involved… well… people resist change (or, more accurately, resist anything that might prevent them from receiving that money).

As long as Fiji is overwhelmed with pride for its success… as long as we have stories about Yusra Mardini… as long as Greg Louganis is challenging boundaries and breaking down barriers and feels so strongly about being involved… there is hope.

The Olympics aren’t going away. But I do believe there is a real question about how relevant they’ll be in the future.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com