The New and Improved Olympics!

By Barry Gottlieb

It’s Olympics time again. This is the biennial sports event in which amateur athletes compete for medals while wondering why their professional counterparts are raking in the big bucks and they’ll be lucky to get their mug plastered on a used Wheaties box. It’s impossible to miss. TV stations are running countdowns on the nightly news (“Only nine more days until the women’s mixed doubles table tennis quarter-semi-hemi-demi-finals, Lisa!”).
Time devoted a special issue to it (“Sleeker bodies, tighter outfits, less unsightly body hair, more steroids!”). And those ubiquitous five linked rings—now named after the five biggest corporate sponsors—are everywhere.
There’s no question the Olympics are special. After all, it’s not every day you see someone running through the streets carrying a lit torch. Well, not unless you live in the inner city, the Deep South, or are watching footage of WTO demonstrations.
It’s also not every day you can hear sports announcers repeatedly say shuttlecock while trying not to snicker, learn that men don’t wear bloomers when they play field hockey, and watch competitors win gold medals for flitting around twirling ribbons in the name of rhythmic gymnastics.
There’s a lot of tradition in the Olympics. They began a long time ago in Ancient Greece where the athletes competed naked. Unfortunately this was before the Spice Channel was even around to cover it.
The modern day version was launched in 1896 when Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived them as a means to sell ads because TV hadn’t been invented yet and, face it, the upkeep on a castle can’t be cheap.
This year about 10,500 athletes from 201 countries will be in Athens to participate in 301 events. To put that in perspective, if each one of them were to send me $10 at the end of their event I wouldn’t have to work for a long time. If they would send me $100 I could retire. Hell, most of them are subsidized by their government anyway, so it’s not like it’s any sweat off their back, so to speak.
There are a lot of differences between the original Olympics and the current ones. For one thing, the modern Olympics are held every two years, rotating between summer and winter sports. Obviously the ancient Greeks didn’t have the winter. On the other hand, they did have the feta throw, synchronized Spartan toss, and Greek-style wrestling (wink wink) so you know they had fun.
An example of how things have changed is the pentathlon (from the Greek “penta” for five and “athlon” for incongruous combination of sports).
The modern pentathlon includes shooting, fencing, swimming, riding, and running. These are much handier skills for modern people to know than the originals, since they can be put to good use in everyday life, especially if you’re a bank robber, drug addict, or go to a public school. There’s already talk of updating this event for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. They’re hoping to launch the post-modern pentathlon, which will include the 40GB iPod song shuffle, the 300dB cell phone shout, the marathon coffee drink order, and the SUV demolition derby.
It’s important to keep the Olympics up to date since it’s harder than ever to hold an audience’s attention. After all, we’re more used to watching action shows like “The World’s Goriest Sports Accidents With Bones Sticking Out” than we are dressage. In fact, if they were smart the Olympic committee would let MTV take over that event, call it “Undressage,” and watch the ratings go through the roof.
Traditionally the Olympics have been about royalty sports, like equestrians (“The sport of kings”), badminton (“The sport of princes”), and synchronized swimming (“The sport of queens”).
In the last Olympics they added fresh, new, exciting events like trampoline, triathlon, tae kwondo, and synchronized diving. This year there’s only one new event—catfighting. I mean, women’s wrestling. Hopefully sponsored by Jell-o.
If they really want people to watch the Olympics they need to make some bigger changes. An event like the 400-meter Shark Dodge would definitely get people to tune in. Dumping that boring Greco-Roman wrestling and letting the WWE take over would do wonders for the sport. Hell, I’ll put my money on The Rock over Rulon Gardner any day. And instead of shooting arrows at targets, why don’t they set up Athenà and Phèvos, this year’s Olympic mascots, and let everyone have a go at them?
But alas, it’s too late to make changes this year. Not to worry. Just sit back, relax, pop a couple of dolmas in your mouth, chase them with some ouzo, and throw a few plates—hey, there’s an event they could have held that would only be appropriate this year—and enjoy yourself. Let the games begin! n