Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Faster, Higher, Stronger… Louder… More Anxious…

When I was a little guy, the people who ran the Olympics hadn’t yet shifted the Winter Games’ schedule by two years; so this international sporting event truly was something I waited a long time for. Only once every four years could we experience Olympic competition, the World Cup, or US presidential elections. When four years is a third or a half of your life, it’s a long time to wait.

At first I was a little miffed that the Winter Games were moved to split the difference with the Summer Games. I was sure it’d been done for completely craven reasons (sell more advertising!!). Nothing to do with quaint concepts like tradition, never mind that the Winter Games didn’t date back to the ancient Greeks, but rather to just before the Great Depression. I got over it when I figured out that, Summer or Winter, they were the Olympics, and it was a different set of sports each time, so it still preserved the feeling somewhat.

Setting aside the remarkable history of mismanagement, corruption, and political bloodsport that goes into awarding, planning and executing the Games … not to mention the various times at which various nations clandestinely sent professional athletes into competition, before the Olympic Committee just threw its hands up and said, “to heck with it, shelve the whole amateurism idea, send whomever you want, we give” …

I like the Olympics. I’m one of those people who defaults to cheery idealism, and plans his life around two weeks of televised sports … no matter how he may rail (as a Purveyor and Supporter of the Arts) against the worldwide economic and cultural dominance of Athletics Uber Alles!! People work hard to get there, and for many of them, just getting there is the achievement.

In the winter, I revel in bobsledding, curling, speed-skating, ice dancing, ski jumping, and biathlon. In the summer, it’s crew, handball, the hammer throw, water polo and rhythmic gymnastics. Because for forty-seven and a half months afterward, I won’t see them again.

And the opening and closing ceremonies – even before the onset of social media and the live-blogging urge – have always been two of my favorite TV evenings. The opening ceremonies are full of pageantry … they’re full of madly grinning and waving athletes from little tiny countries who have very low medal-winning expectations and are just pleased to be on the grounds … and they’re full of some really genuinely awful-looking national-team outfits. The closing ceremonies are full of the same, but I watch them with a distinct sense of melancholy. Looked forward to it; had a great time with it; wish it could go on longer. (And I wasn’t even there.) Kinda like the end of school vacations, no matter how lengthy.

So shortly, the next edition of the Winter Olympiad will arrive, and while I’m just as ready to watch sporting events that are truly events …

I’m really worried.

 

The Games are never without controversy, in part because there’s no such thing as a neutral site on Earth in which to stage them. During World War II and the Cold War, some host-nation choices turned out not exactly to be everyone’s cup of tea. Various countries found opportunities for generating nationalistic propaganda via the Games. In 1980, the US boycotted the Moscow games; in 1984, the Soviet Union boycotted Los Angeles. Sportsmanship so often has lost out to political and nationalistic fervor; and that’s not to mention Berlin in 1936, and Hitler.

I was only six years old when terrorists invaded the Munich games, and held hostage and then killed Israeli athletes. I’ve watched documentaries about those events, and felt vaguely relieved that, as I was watching them, they were not actually happening live in front of me. People who did see the Munich games via ABC television in 1972 have described for me how much they never want to see anything like that again.

So within the last week, I’ve read a number of online articles detailing all the challenges that face Sochi. It’s in a part of the world whose population faces economic challenges the likes of which we American 99-percenters can hardly imagine. Sochi is in Russia, a country that was the subject of a curious New York Times article that compared Americans’ knee-jerk answer to “how are you?” – “fine, good, all right” – with our Russian counterparts’ immediate response – essentially “not very good at all, and let me tell you all about it”. Smile for the tourists! … please? …

Sochi is in a country which does not exactly have a progressive and welcoming legal attitude toward the LGBT community – all the while hosting a sporting event which, like the rest of humanity, does feature a certain percentage of LGBT people. Sochi is in a country with a reputation for corruption and crime that makes Al Capone’s “Chicago Outfit” look like a bunch of Cub Scouts.

Sochi is in a country that throughout history has so irritated its neighbor countries (Chechnya and Georgia, just to begin the list) that it is statistically unlikely that none of those countries will not wish to seize this opportunity to stick it to the Russians, by sign-waving or verbal outbursts or, almost inevitably, violence.

Within the last week or so, news stories have noted that local and international law enforcement is on the lookout for fetchingly-named “Black Widow terrorists” who are probably already in Sochi. (I only want people with those nicknames to be characters in James Bond films.) Security concerns are on people’s minds enough that several NHL teams have expressed concern about sending their athletes to play with their respective national teams. And the US Navy has stationed warships in international waters nearby … just, you know, … in case.

Frankly, I’d rather the US Navy not have to come and help with any problem more dire than the rescue of a skater who is drowning in a suddenly-melted ice rink. (You do know that the average high temperature for a February day in Sochi is about 50 degrees, don’t you?)

So unfortunately, while I’m looking forward to the actual sports … the back of my mind will be wondering what’s going to go wrong first. True, this could all be the product of the mighty Internet and its ability to amplify the thoughts of naysayers and worriers and alarmists and extremists all out of proportion.

Or, maybe it couldn’t.

 

Two weeks till the flame is lit. And then another two weeks till the flame is extinguished.

It’s a long time to hold one’s breath.

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January 24, 2014 - Posted by | current events, news, sports | , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] Apparently, nothing happened during the Sochi Games, in spite of my early worries about security and geopolitical matters (read: terrorists) and such, to disrupt the competitions […]

    Pingback by What Have We Learned?: Sochi Edition « Editorial License | February 25, 2014 | Reply


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