(I’ll be adding to this as new Olympians bubble up into the headlines….)
(Update 1, 7/28)
Seems that whenever the Olympics come around, the sports media here quickly develops a story line that will utterly dominate their coverage. This time, it’s the Simone Biles Olympics. Only things that happen to her deserve detailed coverage. If someone else manages to win a medal, everyone rushes to her to get her reaction. It gets annoying after a while – especially when there are so many other great athletes with real interesting stories to tell.
When you just barely qualify for the finals in the 400m Men’s Freestyle, you get stuck in Lane 8. Against the side of the pool, where you have to deal with waves reflecting off the concrete wall. In a contest that comes down to hundredths of a second, that stuff matters. Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui wasn’t going to let that bother him….
As I’m writing this, some of the preliminary & qualifying rounds of the competitions at the Tokyo Olympics are underway. There are still plenty of people questioning the wisdom of holding an international event of this scale given that we are still technically in a pandemic.
I am not one of them.
COVID-19 is shifting from “pandemic” to “endemic”. It’s all over the world; we can’t contain it anymore. We know what it is, how it spreads, and how it works. We’ve got vaccines that work better than we could have hoped for. To those who have been vaccinated and take reasonable precautions, it – and even the variants – should no longer be a big deal.
While at dinner tonight, I caught a bit of a news item on the upcoming Olympics. This set me thinking. They’re always looking to add more sports to the Olympics (which is one of the reasons they’re getting more expensive, but I’ve already written about that). Baseball and softball have been “demonstration” sports. Among those activities that are or have been seriously considered are ballroom dance (!) and chess (!!!).
Look, we’ve got to make something clear to stop such foolishness. Make a hard and fast definition that a Sport is a “competition primarily for physical skills where a winner can be determined objectively”. While competitive chess at the highest levels can give rise to serious physical stress in the players, it is almost entirely a mental game. You can play it with almost no bodily movement. And while ballroom dance requires great physical skill, it’s rarely obvious who “wins”.
Less than one year from now, Beijing is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Needless to say, there’s much talk about boycotting them over China’s miserable human rights record.
There’s been the usual suggestion of a boycott, but we all know that doesn’t work. It only harms the athletes who don’t get to participate, and the host country gets to control the narrative as well as get bragging rights from winning all the medals.
Mitt Romney, who organized the Salt Lake City Olympics, so he has some experience in these things, suggest we should participate – but counter all the Chinese propaganda by telling and showing the truth about what they are doing in Hong Kong and with the Uighurs.
But that isn’t a permanent solution to the problem. The scale of hosting the Games means that more than likely, a totalitarian state that can ignore the cost will wind up as a host. Some suggest moving the Olympics to a permanent site, but that just places the costs onto a single country – and the same country every time.
There might be a better solution.
Spread the Games out.
Once again, it’s time for people in the United States to give cursory attention to winter sports. In about a week, the 2018 Winter Olympics being in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As always, the hubbub over scandals and costs swamps the news in the run up to the Games, knocking the actual athletes off even the back pages of the sports sections.
Even with normal coverage, it’s easy for an individual athlete to get overlooked. Over a thousand athletes in attendance, the big powerhouses of winter sports getting all the glory…. How must it feel to be your country’s only representative?
Here they are (asterisks indicate a country’s first appearance in the Winter Games):
Assuming you knew about them in the first place….
One top medalist from every country that won a medal at the Rio Olympics.
If you won your country’s only medal, you’re in.
If you won your country’s highest medal (gold > silver > bronze), you’re in.
After that, it’s pretty much personal preference. I did try to choose a good variety of sports, and those athletes who won multiple medals.
I tried to be consistent with the captions. It’s not really easy when you’re trying to put this together as quickly as possible so it doesn’t get dated. I hope I at least got everyone’s names right.
In a lot of ways, the Olympics is about Firsts. First to cross the finish line, coming in first place in a tournament…. There are also the first times a sport has been played at the Olympics.
Some of the best “firsts” happen in the medal ceremonies, when a nation’s anthem gets played for the first time to mark that nation’s first gold medal. In Rio, this happened nine times. Ten, if you count the “Independent Olympic Athlete” team.
So, Who Won the Olympics?
This question pops up every two years at the conclusion of the Games (either Winter or Summer). The simple answer is whichever nation got the most medals. Usually, as was the case this time, it’s the United States. This achievement is crowed by people who seem to believe that success in an international sporting competition somehow validates a nation’s greatness. Or that individual athletic achievement only matters when your name is Michael Phelps or Simone Biles.
Let’s be fair. The United States is one of the most populous nations in the world. We have a truly vast pool of talent to draw on. And our large, vibrant, and robust economy means that when talent does appear, we can offer the best in training, technology, and equipment to help those aspiring athletes reach greatness. Well, at least in the sports we care about….
Gee, if only there were some way to take population size and economic factors into account. I wonder what the Medals Table would look like then… Continue reading
It happens every two years. People gripe about the Olympics. Corruption in the International Olympic Committee, doping scandals, and the like. They swear they aren’t going to follow them, and yet they keep an eye on the medal tables and whatever else the media tells them to pay attention to.
In and among their litany of complaints, they might mention how the Games have gotten too expensive for a city to host. The displacement of people, the disruption of everyday life for the residents, the oppressive security measures, the wasteful expenditures on facilities that will never turn a profit (as if making money was the only reason to host the Games).
They have a point. The Games have gotten rather expensive. But it’s not just inflation, or hosts trying to “one up” the previous games.
It’s that the Olympics have gotten too big.
One of the more notable athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics in London was Guor Marial, a marathoner from South Sudan. A refugee from Sudan’s civil war, he managed to make his way to the US. In high school he started competing in track, and made All-American in college. Noting that his time in the marathon was good enough to qualify for the Olympics, friends and coaches encouraged him to apply.
There was a problem, though. He wasn’t a US citizen and couldn’t be on the US team. He wanted to represent the new country of South Sudan (where he was born), but that country hadn’t yet met the International Olympic Committee’s requirements to field a team. The IOC suggested that he run for Sudan. Marial’s response was pretty much along the lines of “The Sudanese Army killed almost all of my family and forced me to flee the country. Do you honestly think I’m going to compete under the same flag?”
The IOC found a loophole. They allow for “stateless” athletes to compete under the Olympic flag. Wearing a generic black and gray track suit, and being given the three-letter country code of “IOA” (Independent Olympic Athlete), he ran in the marathon, finishing with a respectable middle-of-the-pack time of 2:19:32.
Since then, the refugee situation has gotten worse. Millions of people are being displaced by civil wars and strife all across the globe. Mindful of this, the IOC wondered if any potential athletes were sheltering in refugee camps or otherwise counted as “displaced” people.
They found quite a few….