WASHINGTON -- I see that the Olympic Games are taking place again. Nonetheless, the boycott that I slapped on them a couple of decades back remains in effect. I shall not watch them voluntarily. Perhaps I shall be passing through a room where the games are being boomed and blathered, but I shall avert my gaze.
Admittedly, the games have suffered no setback since my boycott began. In fact, they seem to be tawdrier than ever. But my boycott finally has attracted the support of my old friend and former Olympian Alan Somers, who recently set a world record for the 3,000-meter swim for men 60 and older. Al was a teammate of mine on the Indiana University swimming team in the early 1960s, where many of our teammates were Olympians and world-record holders. When I slapped my boycott on the Olympics, he dissented. Worse, he chided me, attributing my boycott to sour grapes over never making the team.
Well, it is true that I never made an Olympic team, but I never won a Rhodes scholarship, either, and I never have been critical of Rhodes scholarships. Yet I accepted Al's rebuke with my usual benignity, confident that as the Olympics lurched ever further from the Olympic ideal of amateurism and good sportsmanship, Al would capitulate. It is immensely rewarding to have him on my side during this Olympiad. What is more, next week he will collaborate with me in this space; we shall deplore a particularly egregious excess in this year's swimming competition.
For now, Al, whose Olympics were in 1960 in Rome, is at work reviewing David Maraniss' confused book on those games, "Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World." Among other deficiencies, Maraniss fails to report that the 1960 swimming competition was the first in which male swimmers shaved their body hair to improve their times. One of the great news stories of the games issued from one reactionary American's refusal to follow the fad. Al was the reactionary. He gained instantaneous worldwide recognition after propelling his shaggy body to an Olympic record in the trials for the 400-meter freestyle. How he did in the finals I shall leave for Al to explain. He still denies shaving has anything to do with performance and in fact wore a mustache when he broke the world record in the 3,000-meter swim.