Saturday, February 6, 2010

I'm sick of the Olympics already; a rant

In 1976 the Olympics were held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I know some of my readers weren't even born then, but that's ok. A little ancient history is sometimes a good thing. Take a look at this pic.

That's the Big Owe. The roof of the stadium where the games were held. It was supposed to cost $134 million, and wasn't complete in time for the games. After some special taxes were put in place, it was finally paid off in 2006 (30 years) for a total cost of $1.61 Billion. Even in Canadian dollars that's a lot of money. The supposedly retractable roof has never worked properly. More recently, large, I mean, very very large concrete chunks have fallen off the roof. One of them was 56 metric tonnes. Trust me, that's a lot. They play baseball in it now. It can stay open for business in the winter, providing weather conditions are favourable. Which you'd think would be a basic requirement for almost any building in Canada.

Let's go for a more recent example, the Calgary Olympics in 1988. Recognize these?

The 90 m tower is obsolete for ski jumping. It works quite well as a cell phone tower. How the mighty have fallen. They say the rest of the facility is still used for training purposes. As an aside, I think anyone that does that sort of jumping is certifiably nuts, to say nothing of doing it cross-ways to the gusty winds of Calgary.

The people bidding for the games always talk about the buildings being a legacy, supporting future development, and promoting sport in general. Let's just say they aren't very good at estimating costs, and don't always get the future right. I object to their cost over runs being subsidized by the taxpayer. This doesn't even get into looking at what was there before the buildings, and how it got to a state where building could begin. There have been some interesting stories filtering out of Vancouver about that.

One of my objections to the Olympics is the spectacle. Bigger and better, meaning more money. Read about the efforts the organizers of the Roman Spectacles went through to bring exotic animals and new forms of "entertainment" for the amusement of the mob. That mob needed to be distracted from the price of bread, and taxes, and other problems, or they'd rise in rebellion. The world now is just beginning to come out of serious economic problems, and the so-called leaders of the world are all going to be cavorting around Vancouver, trying to get their faces on TV next to an athlete or some other celebrity. (Don't get me started on celebrities.) I'd rather they were at work. Some of them should be in the Canadian Parliament, where we pay them to be. Slackers! Hmmm, on second thought, given their contribution to getting us into that mess, maybe it's better they are doing nothing "productive" by spending time at the games.

Then we get to the "sports" themselves. I say sports advisedly. Curling is fun, or can be. For many people it's one of their major winter social activities. I admit that the finesse required is considerable, and that's just to stand up on very slippery ice. But much of the game consists of the players standing around, pointing brooms at rocks. I have seen games being played where the major activity on ice is drinking beer. This is not an olympic sport, in my view. There is one redeeming feature, however, in that a winner is easily determined.

That isn't the case with all such events. Ice skating or dancing or whatever you call it. It's very pretty, or can be. There is an undeniable serious athletic requirement. (Where ever did male ballet dancers get the wimpy gay image from when one of their jobs is to hoist women over their heads, and hold them up there?) The same goes for male ice dancers. It takes bigger stones than I have to skate full speed down the ice, backwards, then leap into the air to rotate around several times, and land on one edge of one skate. Or do so while trusting your partner to catch you. My hat is off to you there. But how to determine a winner? The judging has become a byword for corruption, with the very words "the Russian judge" having entered the language.

For some of the sports, all you need is a sufficiently accurate timing mechanism. That gets an up check from me. Others, it's the number of goals, or how close a rock is to some arbitrary point on the ice, or some other verifiable criteria. That's all ok in my books. But artistic impression? Give me a break. Pity there isn't a a sport called Wrestle the hungry Polar Bear that bankers, lawyers, and politicians would be "volunteered" for. I'd watch that one.

In some sports they make considerable efforts to ensure that any equipment used is standardized. Sailing for example, has very strict criteria to ensure that the competition is fair. Why then, can speed skaters from some countries use the "clap skate", which offers a technical advantage, and others can't? There are other sports where the equipment involved gives a technical edge, yet there is no effort to ensure that all competitors are on an equal footing. How about the highly technical skin suits in swimming or speed skating or other sports where air resistance is a factor? The high jumper's pole? The bobsled? Skis? I'm sure there are other examples.

The Olympics used to make a big deal about being amateur sport. They don't do that so much anymore, what with basketball and hockey players being recruited from the pro leagues. Even for the "amateurs" there is a considerable cost, and we get into how they are supported. Are they a pro if they get a grant from their country? How about their local community association? Does it matter how much of a grant?

Does anyone have any faith that athletes at the Olympic level are all clean, competing on an even biochemical playing field? Here, I have a bridge to sell you. The dopers have always been a step or two ahead of the regulators. When you don't trust that the competition is clean, the results don't mean much.

Then there's the every 4 years aspect. Hitting the performance sweet spot is tremendously difficult at the best of times. Some sports are so age specific that people not born in the right year are competing at a disadvantage. Where's the fairness? And to call the second place finisher the first loser? That is disgusting. Anybody just competing has already been through a grueling selection procedure (some more grueling that others, and some not being allowed to even get into the selection process because of their gender, or the internal barbarities of their country's way of doing things) and to do well on a particular day against the very best in the world is something to be proud of.

Right now the sponsors pay big bucks to get their name in front of the eyeballs, then mercilessly exploit that advantage. During the 88 Olympics in Calgary they sued a local Greek restaurant to make it change it's name from "The Olympic Flame" to something else because it was infringing on their turf. No matter that it had been called that since long before the Calgary Olympics were even dreamed of. (The restaurant owner won, by the way, and rightly so.) The sponsors have been telling the Vancouver libraries to cover up offending logos on library materials and equipment. I say that goes too far. Corporations already have far too many rights now. Next thing you know, there will be a [insert sponsor's name here] team. It's almost that now, with sponsor's names plastered all over the equipment. Which leads me to the other names on the athlete.

The countries. The Olympics have become a venue for chest beating, national propaganda, and my dick is bigger than your dick that just sickens me. Somehow, a nation that wins more medals is seen as better than one that wins fewer. I wonder why we don't see medal count rankings being reported on a per capita basis, or per million dollars of sports budget? What that means is the nation that pours more money into athletic development is going to win more medals. We've heard the stories about children being chosen at a young age, then pushed ruthlessly to excel at a given sport. Gymnastics come to mind. Is there any thought about the welfare of the child? And what about those athletes that do the country shopping? Some athlete doesn't make the cut in their own country, so they pick one that doesn't do so well. Of course they get to short cut the immigration procedures, and soon get the Olympic moment they so richly deserve (in their heads).

I was reading they are telling people to arrive 3 hours before show time to go through security. Airline security is ridiculous security theatre, and if event security is going to be as thorough, I'm not terribly reassured. As you might have gathered, I'm thoroughly grumpy about the Olympics. I won't be watching them on TV, which is easier than you might think, since we don't get cable or sat service. I do feel sorry for the poor Vancouverites that have been inflicted with the Olympics. It's going to mess up their routines, and put them to a lot of inconvenience.

I am having to wade through Olympic pap and crap in the paper and internet news, but my eyes are pretty good at filtering out what I don't want to read. Normally that means advertising, but lately I've been training my filters to exclude Olympic and Vancouver stuff. The system should be working just fine by the time the flame is lit. Or maybe I'll rent all the DVD's for Lost, and watch them one after the other. That's a much more productive use of my time than coping with the Olympics.

It doesn't warm the cockles of my heart because a Canadian athlete wins a medal. It doesn't bother me if we don't win any medals at all. But then again, I'm not a sports fan. I don't identify with any team, so I'm not up or down depending on how they do. It annoys me that national productivity is going into the toilet because all people will be doing at work is either talking about the games, or stealing time from their employer to watch it on the internet. I can see where the sports bars like it, though, because people feel the need to watch on the big screen, with their buddies, and cute girls bringing them endless supplies of beer. As long as they don't drive afterward, I suppose it gets them out of the faces of us trying to cope with the real world.

If we're going to have an athletic championship, lets standardize. Level the playing field. Require standard equipment for every sport. Only include sports with a verifiable way of determining a winner. None of this throw out the high and low scores, average the scores, then take the cube root and multiply by a random number system like for some sports. Set up one place in the world with all the requisite equipment, and if you want to participate, your country pays for part of the upkeep. Reuse it yearly, upgrading as necessary. If someone wants to compete with a Coke logo tattooed on their butt instead of a country's flag, that's just fine, make Coke pay the same as a country. Make the competitions happen annually, same time every year. Schedule the various events around that. Test the crap out of the athletes all year round. Fail and you're out of the sport. If that means to pee in the bottle and give a blood sample daily, so be it.

And I still think to enhance the viewing audience, a way should be found to include polar bears in all the winter sports, and tigers in all the summer ones.


  1. I would assume that by "some" readers not being alive in 1976, you really mean me. It's okay. You can just point me out.

    What?! The Olympics give out medals to the best?! I thought there were no winners and losers, but that everyone got a "participation" award, just like we're teaching our youth today. Bullshit. Bullshit!

  2. Oh Keith. We can always count on you!! I used to love watching the Olympics. When I was a kid it was so great to see the people I would see at swim meets up against the best in the world. That was the only time swimming was EVER televised. I have a buddy who has worked at the last 3 Olympics as an ice venue producer. You should have coffee with her sometime...omg she has stories and not very nice ones about what happens at the Olympics behind the scenes. If anyone out there thinks this is for the *athletes* and for *sport* you are badly mistaken. It is about MONEY and IMAGE and who can put on the best show. I just talked to her a week or so ago and she is very discouraged...there is alot of pressure to make it look good and she and her team have not been given the resources they need. She even says the actual sports and athletes have been forgotten in the hype.

  3. Shame eh! And the athletes themselves train for years for this.....:(

    On a totally different note, thanks to you and Linda for tea and cookies (and a marvellous cous cous salad) yesterday - they were quite simply divine :)

  4. Great rant Kieth!!!

    ... why don't [we] see medal count rankings being reported on a per capita basis, or per million dollars of sports budget?

  5. Yeah, 30 years to pay back the loans taken to build an event site? It's totally out of hand. I don't know of one locale that has ever recovered from hosting the Olympics. It's sad really. AND YES, professional athletes...hell, I don't need to repeat what you so perfectly wrote. I'm with you.

  6. I LOVE the Olympics -- can't help it. :) :) I especially love the weird and odd things that happen, like the one Olympics where all the male speed skaters crashed except that one that was slower than the pack and he won the gold medal! LMAO!! LOVE IT!!!!

    Seeing all the sponsor stuff makes me realize just how amazing Terry Fox was and what he did....sponsor free. :) :)

  7. I'm sooooo with you on this one. Leipzig applied for the games which London won. The "official" reason for London winning? More Hotel rooms. Hello?! Halle (Saale) is half an hour away and Berlin 1 hour. There is no hotel problem, we don't need more hotels.
    But what makes me really mad is the city tunnel. It costs billions (more than they planned due to construction problems) and it isn't really needed. But every year every athlete in Leipzig needs to sign a petition, that Leipzig doesn't close one more swimming pool. Because they have a problem with financing the sport places. We applied for Olympia, for chrissakes, but swimming pools open at ridiculous times at ridiculous rates. For the tunnel there is enough money, but not for the pools?!!!!

    I love the idea of the Olympic town with a level playing field and standardized equipment. You are right when you say Olympia is all about money, not about athletes and definitely not all about participation.

    I grew up in the GDR, as you might remember the GDR was a master in finding the right kids and support them, they even had a really good training system, it depended a lot on how the athlete felt that day. I remember one day they came to look for swimmers, I didn't fit the picture and was sent on my way. Do I have to tell you how I felt?! I was 8 back then and told that I'm not good enough to become a competitive swimmer... They took me in for gymnastics though, but I lacked the determination and it wasn't my sport.

    Glad I found Triathlon now!!!! I just LOVE it. Thanks for your comment on my blog, btw. I'll try your doughnut way.

  8. You bring up many good points that I hadn't even thought of (like what happens to all the buildings once it's over and how much they cost to build in the first place). It's a shame it can't just be about the athletes.

  9. Ah Keith, I see your point. In the pursuit to break new records and set new limits I think that we have moved so far past what humans are really capable of. I'm not sure, but I think there has been a change to what speed suits are allowed in the water? I hope so, as does that extra advantage really show just what a human being is possible of? And I think that Olympic hockey meant a lot more before they were able to recruit guys from the NHL. Don't get me started on basketball.

    BUT...I really do like how the Olympics are able to ignite national pride and a sense of unity across the country. I'll never forget watching the men's triathlon in Beijing with my brother (who probably wouldn't have watched it if I hadn't been there). When Simon Whitfield put that final sprint on in the end he and I were jumping up and down and yelling at the TV and that was a pretty fun moment.


Looking forward to reading your comment!