OPINION – When it comes to the Olympics, let’s just say I take a different approach to it all.
I mean, really, so far we can take pride in a job well-done by the U.S. women gymnasts, swimmers Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, skeet shooter Kim Rhode, who became the first U.S. athlete to win five Olympic medals in five consecutive Olympic Games in an individual sport, and the competitors who have inspired us with their tireless training and dedication to sport.
I am not, however, a fan of the Dream Team and I think that turning an NBA all-star squad loose on the world of basketball defeats the Olympic ideal.
I’m kind of old school and remember when, mostly, Olympic athletes were truly the youth of the world gathering on the pitch every four years to test their athletic skills against each other in a sportsmanlike display.
Yeah, I know all about the sponsorships and endorsements available these days and I don’t begrudge the athletes. I mean, why not exploit their personal skills? They worked long and hard to develop them, they deserve their recognition and rewards.
But, I’m also a purist who shares the idealistic notions of Pierre de Coubertin, who revived the Olympic tradition in 1896.
“The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well,” he said.
It kindled the flames of sportsmanship, fairness, excellence, all for the sake of competition.
Today, however, there’s much more at stake. Millions of dollars are on the table and Olympic athletes deserve to cash in at some point. I’m still uncomfortable, to be honest, with current rules that allow professionals to compete, whether in skiing, basketball, hockey, soccer, or any other sport where they can sign a contract and compete for pay.
That said, a lot of these kids were initiated into their pet sport as soon as they could walk. They have spent countless hours at the pool, on the track, in the weight room, perfecting their craft to become an Olympic champion and, rightfully so, there is a reward at the end of that trail.
At the same time, we also need to understand that the motivation to be the very best, to stand on that podium clutching gold while your national anthem is being played, can also lead to the seamier side of sports — performance-enhancing drugs, blood doping, and the myriad ways to cheat for that slight advantage that spells the difference between a silver and gold medal.
There is so much at stake these days that we see athletes from nearly every discipline, and at every level, getting caught.
Whether it’s steroids, amphetamines, painkillers, or some other substance, there are those willing to risk getting caught just to grab their moment in the spotlight and whatever cash may be laying around.
Look what happened to the Great American Pastime when Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa all figured that if they beefed up on steroids, they could get a shot at baseball immortality. What they got was a permanent spot in the Hall of Shame and remembered for their baseball immorality after it became clear that the only way they were able to crush so many baseballs over the fence was through juicing up with steroids.
This, naturally, has a trickle-down effect.
How many kids, who pitch to their dad in the backyard in hopes of someday making it to the major leagues, will be tempted to go to the needle to build up enough strength to push a fastball across home plate at 100 mph? How many kids with more desire than brawn would be willing to beef up on growth hormones to make it to the NFL?
There has already been at least one athlete, an Uzbek gymnast, bounced from the Games for failing a drug test. Another is having her blood hyper-tested because of a suspicion about her gender.
Despite all that, I’m still a sucker for the old Grantland Rice line:
For When the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He writes – not that you Won or Lost – but How You Played the Game.
Of course, there is a growing body of evidence to contend that, well, he ripped that line off from somebody else.
No bad days!
Related article: Old School Andy: Losing on purpose strikes at the core of athletics.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not necessarily representative of St. George News.
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