The Road to Rio

Before we know it, the 2016 Summer Olympics will be underway. This year, the run up has been about things other than the athletes. Not that we pay much attention to wrestlers and track and field athletes and the like at any other time, but even this year, we’ve let the press coverage be about other things.

Look, I get it, Zika is a scary disease, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. But come on, we *know* how to deal with mosquitoes. Insect repellent, screens in the windows, dispose of the standing water where they breed, etc. Not a problem! And there are a LOT more diseases that are far more deadly than zika that are also transmitted by mosquitoes, often the same species. Malaria? 200 million cases per year, with over 600,000 deaths. Dengue fever? Something like 100 million cases per year, with over 20,000 deaths. And like zika, there’s no really effective treatment or vaccine for either. But no one is panicking about them (even though they are starting to pop up in the US).

So why the heck are we all up in arms about Zika and the Olympics? A little perspective here, people….

Then there’s all the stories about doping. Teams get caught trying to sneak biochemical cheats past the various Fairness Monitors. Have you noticed that these are almost always from countries that don’t need any help producing medal-winning athletes? It’s never anyone from a place like Nigeria or Uruguay, just the big, totalitarian states like Russia that churn out “factory made” Olympians. One would think their large population base, economy, and sports organizations would be enough to produce world-class athletes.

The other Big Story dominating the run-up is how “unprepared” Rio seems to be. This is a bit of First-World snootiness. Look, Rio won the bid five years ago. At the time, Brazil was stable and reasonably prosperous. One might have been hesitant, knowing how often Brazil has been on the cusp of “taking off”, but the political crisis and economic troubles that occurred since then really could not have been foreseen. These days, every Olympics has problems. Given the size of the event, it’s hard not to. But the constant griping about playing conditions (which, by the way, also seem to only come from the first world countries who are used to training and competing in perfect surroundings) doesn’t help anyone. I don’t want to come across like some curmudgeon saying “Shut up and play, already”, but wouldn’t we really rather focus on the athletes?

Speaking of focusing on the athletes, once again, the US sports media is preparing its pre-determined narratives. This athlete will win this event, this athlete is worth watching, this particular event is the one you should pay attention to. Anything that doesn’t follow that narrative doesn’t matter. If the Favorite Son doesn’t win their event, it is more important to badger them with questions about their failure than to bother with who actually won. We saw that in London with Kirani James (Gold medal, Men’s 400 M) and Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells (Silver and Bronze, Women’s 100 M Hurdles). I’ll let you look up who *didn’t* win those races, and perhaps you’ll understand why they were ignored.

I do have to concede that given the ever-increasing size of the Olympics, it’s really hard to go in just wanting to watch the competitions. With over 10,000 athletes from over 200 “countries” in over 300 events, you have to pick and choose ahead of time.

The creeping bloat of the Olympics is a matter for my next post….

Eh, let me save you the trouble. The Men’s 400 M was Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius’ event; he failed to qualify for the final. Once he was out, no one cared about the event. Lolo Jones was the favorite to win the Women’s 100 M Hurdles after falling and embarrassing herself in Beijing. She finished fourth, and all the press wanted to hear about was her reaction to her loss. Not what her teammates who actually earned medals had to say.

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