The Olympic Team to Root For

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….
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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.

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So, How Did They Do?

Earlier I had listed those Olympic athletes who were the sole representatives of their countries in Sochi. Given that the 2014 Winter Olympics are over, I thought it would be interesting to see how they did.

Note that when I give a result of, for example, 52nd of 60, that 60 refers to the number of athletes who crossed the finish line. It does not include all the DNSs, DNFs, and DSQs.

DNS; Did Not Start – For whatever reason, the athlete declined to compete. I’m going to assume it was due to illness and not something like equipment failure or not being there at the start when the race / their run was scheduled to begin. Olympic athletes have been known to share equipment when someone forgets to bring spares. And missing your start time is something too embarrassing to contemplate.

DNF: Did Not Finish – The athlete started, but did not cross the finish line. Perhaps they got hurt along the way, or were so far behind that they decided to save their strength for another competition.

DSQ: Disqualified – For whatever reason, they were either not allowed to compete or their results were wiped. Perhaps they ran afoul of one of the many obscure rules governing the Olympic version of their sport. Happily, there are very, very few of these. And none from our “soloists”

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Fixing the Olympics

So there’s a bit of a to-do today about apparent home-team favoritism in one of the many figure skating competitions in Sochi. The Grand High Masters of World Figure Skating may have made slight adjustments in their Super Double Secret Rules of Scoring to grant a victory to a Russian skater, instead of the perceived audience favorite.

Fans of the sport are all up in arms over this, demanding that Something! Be! Done!

Certainly, there are things that should be done. But nothing that requires the rolling of heads.

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Going it Alone in Sochi

At the Opening Ceremonies earlier today, viewers saw athletes from all over the world. The United States has 230 athletes participating (I believe that is the maximum number allowed by the IOC and general fairness); Russia has 226, and Canada 220. Nine other countries are sending over 100 athletes as well. No doubt these countries will be dominating the “Medal Count” tables – as if collecting the most medals means your country “wins” the Olympics.

The Olympics are not about which country gets the most “bling”. They are about athletes from all over the world getting together every four years to compete against each other. Sure, it takes a lot of time, money, and effort to get there. And there are minimum qualifications to be able to participate – they aren’t going to let just anyone come and play.

With extremely rare exceptions, you need the backing of a government to make it to the Olympics. Which is why they are dominated by the large and wealthy nations. But there are still small countries that manage to send athletes, and they are just as proud of them and cheer just as hard as any other country.

Here are the athletes who are the sole representatives of their countries:
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Great Moments in the Winter Olympics

One clear symptom of “Olympic Fever” is when the media starts producing lists of “Greatest Olympic Athletes” or “Top Olympic Moments”. One thing that should be obvious is the lack of respect given to the Winter Olympics.  While it is true that the Summer Games have around three times the number of events as the Winter Games, they’ve been around almost as long and have produced quite a number of great moments and great athletes.

Sadly, the lists of “Great Winter Olympic Moments” that I’ve seen are filled with jingoism (as if there were no athletes from outside the United States ever), and seem to consider controversies as “great moments”. Right…. Judging scandals and bribery are things we want to celebrate.

Let’s just leave it to the athletes – regardless of what countries they come from. Because every Winter Olympics has seen something worth celebrating.

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