Thursday, August 9, 2012 • 2:40pm
I am not a sports fan but I have been mesmerized by the Olympics for the past week. The athletes do things with their bodies a mere mortal such as myself can only dream of. They are young, muscular, supple and graceful. Fencing, field hockey, water polo, and the ballet of horse and rider in dressage, are amazing sports we don't often see on U.S. television. But the Olympics are always accompanied by controversy and this one is no exception.
First the International Olympic Committee refused to commemorate the murder of eleven athletes during Olympics held in Munich 40 years ago. Why? Is 40 years an insignificant anniversary? Did the Arab countries object because it was Israeli athletes who were killed?
Perhaps the committee refused to acknowledge this tragic event because the revival of such a story would threaten to overshadow fun and games at the games.
For those of us who were glued to television 40 years ago the events in Munich were gut-wrenching as they unfolded.
Jim McKay and Howard Cosell were sports commentators who suddenly became journalists covering a worldwide news event. The specter of Jews, rounded up by terrorists and neo-Nazis in Munich, Germany, revived horrible memories of events only a few decades before. The expectation that the Israeli hostages would be released at the airport was dashed when German police and military botched the transfer and all the athletes were killed while strapped into their helicopter seats. The sense of loss and mourning that followed the death of the athletes lent a grim overcast to the remainder of the games and later, when Israel systematically hunted down and assassinated those who participated in planning for the attack, troubling questions of whether revenge is appropriate in such
circumstances were raised.
Then along came Aly Raisman, who performed her floor exercises to the tune of the celebratory Jewish song Hava Nagila. After she won the Gold Medal for floor exercise she said choice of the tune was "just a coincidence." (Hey you! Wanna buy a bridge? It runs between Brooklyn and Manhattan... you can charge tolls!)
But most of my attention has been devoted to lesser controversy. For example, I was shocked when a female NBC reporter asked Misty May and Kerry Walsh if they felt demeaned by the skimpy attire women beach volleyball players wear. To imagine that I would be interested in more than sport while watching these two slender, attractive women wearing less clothing than Victoria Secrets models was insulting. (Remember that bridge?) By the way, no female reporter EVER asked a male diver the same question. I wonder why not? More male apparatus is revealed by those Speedos than by the women's bikinis, and I bet there are plenty of female oglers of the divers, which makes me, with my pot belly and balding head, very jealous!
Is the self-named "dream team" really a dream team? Does it compare to the "real" dream team from the 1992 games? There is a lot of excitement when the current "dream team" defeats its basketball foes. Oh yeah? They so
outmatch any other country's opponents, they ought to be handicapped like race horses. Put 20 pounds on each player's back and there might be a chance of an even match.
How about those girl soccer players? That game with Canada was amazing. It was a war. The Canadians charged our girls, tripped them, bumped them and did everything short of throwing a right uppercut. And the British commentators
were obviously partisan, describing our girls on the offense as "sharks in the water who circle the goal until they can strike." But the U.S. girls kept their cool and in the final analysis they won. It was thrilling.
The biggest complaint I have is with the personal profiles that take up evening airtime when the network could be showing more athletic competition. I care about the personal problems of the athletes, but every athlete has to overcome personal and orthopedic challenges to achieve this level of competition. The drama is in the sport, not in the personal challenges faced by the athlete. Time is limited, so show me the drama of the competition rather than the melodrama of family and personal challenges. Next week you can play the personal profiles, if anyone cares.
One other controversy that has yet to be mentioned bothers me. Jim Thorpe, one of the greatest athletes of the Twentieth Century, was stripped of his Olympic medals because he played two seasons of semi-professional baseball
before competing in the Olympics, thus violating the strict rules of amateur status of the time. Today, many sports are dominated by best-in-class professionals and even many of the amateurs receive endorsement money or freebies
for using a supplier's product. I am not advocating that we go back to the good old days, but I would like to see a little more blatant amateurism than professionalism.
All in all, the Olympics are a world-unifying series of events. Once every four years, for the most part, countries and regions put aside their petty differences to play nicely with each other. That is the ideal of the Olympic spirit. We have yet to carry that spirit beyond the Olympics, but we can hope.
Henry Bassman has written about high-technology and medical technology (biotechnology, medical devices and healthcare issues) for more than 40 years. He retired from AT&T, served in the U.S. Army where he became a captain and worked for ABC News. He is now affiliated with a small investment bank. Articles by Henry can be seen on ABCNews.com and other business Web sites. Henry has lived in Summit, NJ for 37 years and has been married for more than 40 years. He has three daughters who graduated from Summit High School.
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