Judging the Olympics

Burt Prelutsky
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Posted: Sep 01, 2008 12:01 AM
Judging the Olympics

I didn’t want to spoil the Olympic Games for the rest of you, but now that they’re over and done with, I’d just like to say that I’ve always disliked them and wish that they’d just disappear.

Understand, I don’t begrudge Michael Phelps the millions of dollars he stands to make in endorsements. I do wonder, though, why it is that swimmers like Phelps and Mark Spitz get so many more opportunities to take home medals than all the other athletes. If I were a sprinter, for instance, I think I’d wonder why it is that I couldn’t compete in the 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90-meter dash, and not just the 100 and the 220.

As far back as 1936, before I was even born, the Games were already a blight on humanity. That was the year that the International Olympic Committee, the IOC, decided to let Adolph Hitler play host even though the Nazis had officially excluded German Jews from competing.

Although 1936 is best-remembered because the great Jesse Owens embarrassed Hitler by showing the world that Aryans weren’t so superior, after all, at least when it came to running and jumping. What is often overlooked, however, is that the American Olympic Committee, at Hitler’s behest, replaced the two Jewish runners, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, in the 400-meter relay. The president of the IOC, Avery Brundage, was only too happy to comply. After the Games, he even went so far as to praise the Nazi regime at a German-American Bund event held at Madison Square Garden, and, in 1938, his company was awarded the contract to build the German Embassy, in Washington, D.C.

Brundage, by the way, was the fellow who refused to restore the Olympic medals to Jim Thorpe before Thorpe passed away. The medals had been taken away from him when it was discovered that he had been paid to play baseball prior to the 1912 Games. The fact that Thorpe died without his medals shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that it was Brundage who had blown the whistle in the first place. But why, you ask, would anyone care if Thorpe, who earned his medals in track and field, had played in a few professional baseball games? Could it possibly have been because one of the Americans he’d bested when copping the gold medals in the decathlon and the pentathlon was none other than young Avery Brundage?

Although Brundage professed that his only motivation for denying Thorpe the return of his medals was his belief in the purity of the Olympics as a venue for amateur athletes, he had no problem sanctioning “amateurs” from the Soviet Union and the rest of the Eastern bloc nations, all of whom were paid to train and compete by their governments. Apparently when it came to dictatorships, Mr. Brundage never played favorites.

But if Brundage was the only reason I disliked the Games, I would have had 36 years in which to get over my pique. He did retire, after all, soon after the 1972 Olympics. Those were the Munich Games at which Palestinian terrorists massacred 11 Israeli athletes. There were many people who thought that after the blood bath, the Games should have been called off, but, predictably, Brundage wasn’t one of those people. All things considered, I suppose the good news is that he didn’t send the terrorists home with a suitcase filled with gold medals.

I first became disenchanted with the Olympics in 1948. Even though I was just a little kid -- maybe because I was just a little kid -- the whole shebang just seemed terribly hypocritical. I’d hear people talk about how the Games were supposed to be a showcase for athletic achievement, with individuals, not nations, competing against one another. But I could plainly see that was just a lot of hogwash. Every single day, the newspapers would report how many medals the U.S. had won, as opposed to how many the Soviet Union and East Germany had claimed. It was just silly propaganda, as if America could only prove that we had a superior system to theirs because our athletes could shotput or pole vault better than the Reds.

This year, it was just more of the same. The media boasted that the U.S. had won 110 medals, whereas China had only copped 100. But the fact remains that they won 51 gold medals to our 36, and it is just infantile to pretend that all medals are of equal value.

Once you get past the glitz of the Olympics, they’re farcical. For instance, long before the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, were making a mockery of baseball records, everybody was making jokes about steroids giving the East German women not only the strength and stamina of men, but, more often than not, hairy chests and five o’clock shadows.

All through the years, the Olympics, allegedly dedicated to good sportsmanship and fair competition, prove that they’re about as decent and honest as Chicago politics. In 1968, in return for making their dreams of competing in the Olympics a reality, a couple of boneheads named Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave America the finger by raising their black-gloved hands in the Black Power salute. In 1972, the referees turned the basketball final into a bad farce by twice adding seconds to the clock so that the Russians could finally manage to eke out a one-point victory over the U.S. In 2002, two Canadian skaters had to share a gold medal with a Russian couple all because the French judge conspired with her colleagues from Poland, the Ukraine, Russia and China, in order to guarantee their votes for the French couple performing in the upcoming ice dance competition.

In 2002, the IOC found itself mired in a scandal when it came out that several, if not all, of the Committee members had been bribed to bestow the Winter Games on Salt Lake City.

This year, with all the countries to choose from, the IOC, true to form, saw fit to reward China, no doubt out of appreciation for China’s efforts to promote peace, liberty and goodwill, around the world.

Avery Brundage, who never met a totalitarian state he didn’t like, would have been so proud.