Monday, August 25, 2008

Beijing 2008: The Olympics are over edition

Were ours a sane world, which it is not, Beijing 2008 would go down as a supernova.

It was extremely luminous for a short while before fading from view -- leaving who knows what for the people who seem fated to live under Beijing's boot as long they breathe air (uh, about that: What it's going to be like once the visitors leave, not that I cared too much before the spotlight was put on China?). The mind reels.

The supernova analogy works since, dare to dream, this will hopefully be the last time we'll see the phenomena of the Olympics As Political Statement. Vancouver-Whistle 2010 will just be 16 days of snow-and-ice based sports. If the world media can largely ignore China's problems, not giving a photo-op to affordable housing advocates, B.C. native leaders and Marc Emery in 18 months' time should be easy as pie. Point being, the "happy-Olympics, progressive-China propaganda" (Thomas Boswell, Washington Post) and its ilk is best left in whatever century that Jacques Rogge's worldview calcified. Let's get back to sports for sports' sake.

Speaking as someone who wasn't there, I can see how it was necessary to do a face dance for the world for Japan in 1964 or Germany in 1972 (the "Happy Games," and we know how that turned out). Nowadays, people are a lot smarter, at least know how to work Google, the great equalizer, one would hope. The point is that if you a televised ceremony that looks like the Academy Awards telecast and Super Bowl halftime from hell times a hundred informs your view of China, you're beyond saving.

Athletes and sports lovers being pulled together in the name of competition, maybe learning something about the world and themselves that they didn't know 17 days earlier, ought to be enough. That should do it. Let's have that as the motto for how we look at the Olympics: There, That Should Do It.

In that regard, London 2012, which is shaping up as a value-for-money games, could be a good start. Seeing some sports you don't ordinarily get to see in prime time, or read about in above-the-fold Page 1 stories, people from all corners of the globe coming together in the spirit of healthy bodies and minds, and to compete, there, that should do it.

Enough is enough. Let's strip away the overdone opening and closing ceremonies, the appeals to shallow patriotism and saying we did something. The quadrennial Canadian rite of beating ourselves up every four years because some 24-year-old from Kelowna whose training is fuelled by Costco-priced Kraft Dinner and cash advances from the Bank of Mum and Dad finished 18th in something, that's got to go, too, especially when we turn around after a barren first week and end up with a better than projected 18 medals (still six less than Cuba, but who's counting?)

One larger point here is that ramping up this onslaught of obscure sports for 17 unrelenting days is out of step with the pace of modern life. A quadrennial spectacle of sport made sense back, in like, 1976. Not to steer this rant into Christie Blatchford country, but from the view of someone who was born a few months after the 1976 Montreal Olympics, a world of no 24-hour sports networks and having to wait until the next day to read about what happened has its idyllic qualities.

You didn't have to put a lot of time in to keep up with sports when all you had were boxscores, the hometown columnist in the local rag and if you were lucky, two major-league baseball games a week on TV. Back then, people, pity them, must have looked forward to the the Olympics, like a Mardi Gras with a lot of sweaty people. (Full disclosure: I watched the closing ceremony for a grand total of about three seconds, then decided to go on living my life.)

Now it's just something that gets in the way of what's really important, like summer vacations, children starting a new school year and fantasy football drafts.

There's so much the Olympic has to get rid of in order to be relevant and not so annoying. Reducing it in scale and just having it be about the athletes would be a start, especially for those who would love to see it come to their country without the IOC and various multinational corporations doing their dine-and-dash. The entire schmozzle is overanalyzed, overcommercialized, overdone, overexposed, overglossed, overhyped, overproduced, overwrought and overzealous, and won't we be overjoyed if Toronto hosts them in my lifetime.

There, that should do it.

Possibly good news for Toronto: London 2012 will be a more stripped-down Olympics. That's bad for the floaters' ball of media types, certain well-connected volunteers who go as part of their country's delegration and rate the success of Olympics based mostly on the quality of the transportation and how much free stuff they get. It's good news for anyone who's part of a tax jurisdiction that's fixing to throw a 17-day party, since maybe future Olympics will be scaled back.

The Sounds Like Canada Award: The media in the UK, going by this column out of Edinburgh, already has the knives out the British Olympic program, in particular the track and field team.

Far be it to suggest that Scots should take heart in knowing they get to distance themselves from the Brits whenever it's convenient. Of course, actually doing so just got more difficult, since Scotland's best Olympian, cyclist Chris Hoy, hadn't poured a pint of Caledonian all over the notion of a Scottish Olympic team.

You're a little late award: Understandably, the media only wised up about China once their flights home were out of Chinese airspace. Granted, anyone else who was there would have done the same thing, it's stressful enough being given that assignment, but what's going to happen, the farther China gets away from these Olympics?

The leave Adam van Koeverden alone award: The U.S. flagbearer, Bernard Lagat, was ninth in the men's 5,000 metres and didn't make the final in the 1,500, and no one made the connection between the choke job and his carrying the flag into the stadium. Simply stunning.

The double standard award: Sports On My Mind noted that U.S. 400-metre man Jeremy Warriner did not get his wrist slapped by the media for being a mope after his silver-medal finish.

We get it, you're sensitive award: To every male writer who frets about the women's beach volleyball players being required, by rule, to wear bikinis. Oddly enough, you've never heard the actual players complaining.

There is a larger argument, as Frank Cosentino put forth, about how beach volleyball can be in the Games when women aren't allowed to compete in rugby or ski jumping. Of course, it's awful and wrongheaded -- it's the IOC,the biggest bastion of white privilege that doesn't hold a golf tournament in April.

The Redeem Team: What, exactly, were they redeeming? The men's basketball final was a great game between the U.S. and Spain, through, with Chris Bosh helping the Americans get the gold medal. Spain did well to only lose by 11 points with Jose Calderon out of commission. Serious hoopophiles already know about the 17-year-old point guard, Ricky Rubio, but it was something to see him hold his own against NBA superstars. What a wicked burn on David Stern that the age minimum means Rubio can't come to the NBA for two more years.

Can't Castro drop dead already? Cuba won only two gold medals. They used to get that many just showing up to the baseball and boxing venues.

There, that should do it.

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