I Hate the Olympics

Let me go out on a limb here and state something that far too many people seem afraid to express: I hate the Olympics! How about you?

I hate everything about the Olympics, from the pompous heraldic theme music, to the months of uber-promotion, to the endless advertising of products made by companies that sponsor the Olympics (“the official toilet paper/bath tub ring cleaner/nose hair clipper of the Olympics!”), to the constant use of the word hero to describe people who do nothing with their lives but train to ride a sled or ski or look adorable in a pink parka while applying lip balm.

In fact, I approach the upcoming Winter Olympics with the same dread that I normally reserve for total mouth root canal, tax audits that go back to the first nickel I ever earned, and the prospect of deep cavity searches when all I’m trying to do is catch an air shuttle from New York to Washington DC.

For those who say, “Well, if you don’t like the Olympics, you certainly aren’t obligated to watch them”, think again. Sure, you can keep from turning on NBC, the network that will feature the coverage, but the Olympics saturates every aspect of American society for months before the first event is scheduled. From the Internet to the news channels and newspapers to conversation around the water cooler at work to casual discussions on instant messaging and in email, you simply can’t escape it because even the crew aboard the International Space Station and both troops and civilians struggling to stay alive in Iraq and Afghanistan are force-fed the endless drumbeat of “Olympic fever”.

Ironically, the fatter, the dumpier, and the more out-of-shape people are, seemingly the more intensely they follow the Olympics and insist that it’s just like they are there competing as well. I always enjoy a 350-pound woman wearing an Olympics-insignia sweat suit while she waves her arms wildly, proud that her team is going for the gold in Olympic chocolate fondue-dipping (and the International Olympic committee will happily sell you the official fondue pot of the 2006 Olympics at a bargain price, too).

What do I loathe the most about all of this? Let me count the ways.

First, there’s the obnoxious overuse of the term hero to describe people who are merely pursuing their own interests. No, this is not limited to the Olympics. Lance Armstrong riding his little bike, Brad Pitt flexing his pectoral muscles, and the latest baseball player to be outed for steroid use is also frequently referred to as a hero. Silly me, I thought heroes did usually more to deserve the title than doing their own thing for their own glory to the total exclusion of others. The definition of hero used to mean something, like people racing to help those trapped in towers about to fall or someone running into a burning building to save children and puppies. Do we debase the concept of hero if we use it for someone who can stay on a sled as it races downhill – or riding a bike around France – with the hope of signing a multi-million dollar product endorsement to sell more potato chips or cell phones or cars?

Then there’s the matter of the classic sense of the Olympics versus the way the games are currently run. At one time, an Olympian was someone who showed fitness in every aspect of his life, mentally and physically. Today’s Olympian, however, is not held to that standard. They are often one trick wonders of a sort, people who paid little attention to school or any other facet of their lives simply to focus on their specific sport. I think almost everyone has the potential to seriously excel at something if they have the luxury of ignoring all else.

Also, when was the last time you noticed all the public fervor for someone who was exceptionally bright rather than someone who played a particular game or sport very well? Our culture tends to scoff at people who work on their brain but places on a pedestal those who develop their brawn. Frankly, considering the many educational areas like science and engineering in which American students are falling far behind those in even underdeveloped countries, perhaps we need to rethink our emphasis on the perfect body or the greatest player.

Here’s another thing: for all of our talk about how great a dream it is to become an Olympics class athlete because anyone who works hard enough has the opportunity, this is usually not true. Yes, there are athletes who come from meager circumstances, but they are perhaps the exception rather than the rule; often, these kids just happen to be discovered and promoted while those who are not discovered cannot compete. Today’s Olympian is frequently from a privileged family, or at least from one that can devote all the family’s resources to pay for pro coaches and special programs. The same is true for the Olympics Committee members as we learned during some of the scandals that have come out after recent contests.

Think too about all the hubbub that goes into the selection of a city to host the Olympics. Yet we’ve seen that for all of this, a city does not always prosper because the games are held there. Too frequently, established businesses in a hosting city suffer to the exclusion of those devoted to the Olympic fever that will soon be gone; security may block off access to main streets and arteries forcing many companies, shops and restaurants to close for the duration.

Olympic fever? Give me a bad head cold any day!

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