Harold Connolly, another Olympic gold medalist from Oerter's era -- Connolly was a hammer thrower -- esteemed Oerter "the greatest field-event athlete of the century. There's a magic about him when he's competing. He's nervous before the meet. He doesn't eat well and his hands shake. But once the event is about to start, a calmness settles over him. The other athletes see it, and it intimidates them. They watch him, and they are afraid of what he might do." Well, whatever he did, it always would be by the book. He competed until 1987, after reaching the finals of the Olympic trials in 1984 at the age of 47. When he quit, he observed, "The drug culture had taken over."
I suspect the "drug culture" is a concomitant of the big money that has been injected into sports at the highest level today. The Olympic ideal of amateurism is long dead. With its passing has gone the love of sport for its own sake, the sheer fun of competition. After visiting an Olympic training facility in the 1990s, Oerter rendered his judgment of the professionalism that has subverted the amateurism of his day. According to The New York Times, he lamented, "I saw these athletes in their 30s training full time. … That's their life. What happened to the rest of it? I'm happy that I had a normal life, with a career and family. That makes a person whole."
The pure amateurism of the Olympics was a 19th-century liberal ideal. I always have wondered how the liberals could allow this ideal to fall victim to the mercenary impulse. It was one of the ideals they got right, and I have not heard a peep of protest from them as the giant corporations and the superpatriots subverted that ideal. Well, here I stand waving the banner of amateurism. Why is a modern Eleanor Roosevelt or Bertrand Russell not standing here with me? Is it because -- as I have been saying for years -- modern liberalism no longer produces such liberal paragons, just hustlers and the Clintons?
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