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Higher Faster Stronger Over

2004-08-31 - 10:43 a.m.

For the first time, in a long time, I actually get to write this entry on my own computer, as I now have a wireless card and access to various campus hotspots. Hopefully, this will mean more regular updates, at least until exams start. Speaking of which, I had my first class on Monday, and it looks to be relatively enjoyable, considering that the course is pretty much English Grad School Boot Camp. Whatever; I'm ready. I went into the teacher's office and said, "I want literary theory to grab me by the back of the neck, slam me on the desk, and make me its bitch. That's pretty much my academic goal for this class . . . pretty much. Yeah."

No, I didn't, but I really, really wanted to.

I also really want to talk about plastic surgery, because I just saw something about it on the Oxygen Network, but I'm going to try to be more disciplined and do what I had originally intended to do: Olympic wrap-up.

I got to see the closing ceremonies on Sunday night, and I'd forgotten that as cool as the opening ceremonies may be, the closing ceremonies are a lot more fun, and capture a lot more of what I think is great about these events. Unfortunately, the excesses of the event have come at the expense of the Greek people, who are now in debt up to their elbows, so I kinda feel bad about enjoying things. However, I think that, as in any event, there are lessons to be learned.

The time spent between the opening and closing ceremonies was a mixed bag for me. I kinda wish that classes and such hadn't been starting at the same time, because it meant I had to miss coverage of a lot of my favorite sports. In particularly, I saw nothing of rhythmic gymnastics, which I think is an awesome event. I think that a lot of the events, especially the main events such as track, swimming, and gymnastics, have become the province of genetic freaks rather than skilled athletes. Actually, that sounds bad; every Olympian is, by definition, extremely skilled and aided by innumberable hours spent perfecting their craft, and I wholeheartedly respect them for that (except for . . . well, we'll get to that in a minute). However, I think that, in a lot of sports, skill eventually must bow down to a natural, inborn talent. Take Ian Thorpe, for instance. In fact, take him, strip of his clothes, put him in my bed, and tell him he's in for the night of his life, please. This guy is six feet tall and has feet so big that he has to kill one cow for each shoe. In other words, he has an unparalleled reach and natural flippers (he may be one of the swimmie creatures I spoke about earlier). If you're 5'8" and have Cinderella feet, it's not going to matter how much you practice. You just ain't gonna win. And then there's me, who occassionally watches gymnastics and says, "Say, that looks like fun, I bet if I'd had the opportunity to do that when I was three, I might not be the exceptionally sedentary person I am today." No matter how much I tried, could I, at 6'0", have ever beaten the men who would always be smaller, lighter, and therefore able to get better height? If I did, it would take a fucking miracle.

Not so rhythmic gymnastics. In this case, it all comes down to coordination, to practicing a routine until you're blue in the face and you'd rather die than look at another ball, ribbon, or hula hoop. You don't need to perpetually look twelve years old. You just have to train and train and train, and that's just one of the reasons why rhythmic gymnastics, badminton, ping pong, and synchronized swimming are fun to watch. Fortunately, I got to see those other sports, and they provided hours of entertainment. The next time you wonder if synchronized swimming is a sport, try lifting someone else out of the water, then rotating downward while they jump of your shoulders. Then try to do it at exactly the same time as someone else. Until you do this, shut up.

Another really fun thing about the Olympics was the fact that the athletes were able to perform where Olympians had performed thousands of years ago, The marathon runners actually ran from Marathon to Athens. They ran "The Marathon." Isn't that the coolest thing? Well, if that's not cool enough for you, the shotputters got to compete in Olympia, in the ruins of one of the original stadiums. Not only was it amazing to see, but it also saved a life. I had been plotting the death of Bob Costas since the opening ceremonies, but after the shotput, when Bob Costas commented on the event with the wide smile of the genuinely impressed, I decided that there was something human within him, and he could live.

If all that wasn't cool enough, the shotput audience sat on the grass with folding chairs that they had brought with them, along with blankets, towels, and picnics. THAT, ladies and gentlemen and the transgender of all ages, is the right way to watch a sporting event. It demonstrates that the Olympics CAN be done in a more sustainable way, that people don't need the massive state-of-the-art stadium to watch these sports. All you need is a patch of grass and an ass that you're willing to sit on. In some ways, that style is a lot more fun.

Of course, it wouldn't be an Olympics without petty bickering and favoritism between national teams. The low point for me was the whole Paul Hamm fiasco, because I was soooooo happy for him when he won his gold, and felt that rarest of things, a rush of national pride. Then the South Koreans realized their routine had been misjudged, and things went to shit before you could say "Higher Faster Stronger." Okay, so here's my take: I think that no one should ever have asked Paul Hamm to give up his medal, particularly in the wishy-washy "Well, if you don't WANT to you don't HAVE to, but it's the right thing to do." Guess what: it isn't the right thing to do. It's a good and noble thing to do, but if the judges screw up, then they have done the wrong thing, and it is their responsibility to make it right. They need to say, "Guess what, Paul Hamm is the gold medalist, period," or, "Paul Hamm isn't the gold medalist, sorry," or, "We have two gold medalists here, so yay for sharing!" And Jacques Rogge said "Paul Hamm won the event, so suck it up, buttercup!" which meant that the case was friggin' closed. Sucks to be you, South Korea. If they believe that the contest was fixed, it's a different story, but Paul Hamm is not at fault.

Sadly, Paul Hamm decided to open his mouth, and say that he was even unwilling to share the gold, and in that moment my crush on him and worse, my pride in his achievement, evaporated completely. It's a contest. It's nothing more. You have all done ridiculous amounts of work to even be there. Sharing the gold is no shame. However, that is not how Paul Hamm plays, apparently. Nothing like watching an American act petulant on the most prominent athletic stage in the world to improve our international reputation.

This is what I was talking about earlier: I think that committing so much of your life to a single event that comes around once every four years--and one that you can successfully participate in a handful of times at best--is kinda sad. I admire their dedication, but I can't help but wonder what happens to them after they've won, or worse, after they've lost. Take Svetlana Khorkina: she said she wanted a gold medal in the All-Around as much as she wanted a child, and when she took silver to Karly Patterson, she said that the contest was rigged. If it was, then fight for your rights, but don't toss that kind of comment offhand. I'd much rather know a graceful loser than an asshole with a piece of plated-bronze around their necks.

However, most of that was put aside for the closing ceremonies, which was, I think, a demonstration of what the games should be. Sure, it was over-produced at the expense of the working people, but, like the events in Olympia, it hinted to a more sustainable version of the games, where the money spent on lavish sets can be saved, and instead, the people of the host country can play their music and perform their dances, teaching them to the guests who have come from around the planet, It can be about food, drink, and fun, and having all of the above in a way that doesn't require 45,000 fake stalks of wheat being inserted by hand. More importantly, it can be about remembering that the Olympic Games are just that: games, and no matter who the winners are, the real point of any game is to have a party afterwards.

In four years, the games will be held in Beijing, and I'm conflicted about that. On the one hand, it's a great excuse to go to China, and I think I can finagle a family vacation out of my Dad, seeing as my stepsister's father lives in Taiwan, and she visits every summer anyway. Why not go pick her up ourselves, and take a detour. At the same time, there is the problem of the cost of the Olympics, as well as the problem of China's human rights violations. So, once again, I make the charge to all my revolutionary buddies to get on the horn with their comrades from all over the world for an alternative version of these events. What better way to draw attention to the problems in China than to gather together in the countryside and redefine the Olympic games.

I'll be there if you guys do it. Of course, I will duck away to the actual games for one event. I figure that, if I get to see Olympic synchronized swimming in person, just once, my life will be complete.

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