Growing up I remember anxiously awaiting the return of the Olympic Games, watching wide-eyed as iconic figures such as Scott Hamilton and Mary Lou Retton took to the ice and uneven bars, respectively. With signature moves and million-dollar smiles, they wowed us with their pure athletic prowess and genuine love for the games. My grandmother and I often watched together on a small black and white TV. We didn’t have high definition, a 50-inch LCD screen or extravagantly produced commercials filling in the gaps. But we didn’t need these things. All we needed – all we wanted – was to see and experience the excitement and competition.
Despite boycotts, wars and petty politics throughout its history, the Olympic Games managed to rise above the hullabaloo and commercialization. We, the audience, enjoyed the festivities and events meant to honor our athletes, celebrate our differences and bring unity to a very disconnected world. We, as a people, no matter the color of our skin, the religion that we practiced or the language that we spoke, ignored the noise that was trying to creep in and saw the games for what they were: the world’s foremost sporting event. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the glory days ended with the period of the Hamiltons and Rettons.
Today, the Olympics have turned into a media spectacle, rather than a celebration of athleticism. Much of what you see in the spotlight is negative and completely unrelated to the premise of the games. From Australian swimmers being donned too fat to wear a bathing suit to news of culture clashes behind-the-scenes, what has happened to this glorious international event that once had honor in ancient roots? Just this morning the headlines were plastered with the news that a Greek triple jump champion was expelled from the Olympics after tweeting about Africans and the West Nile virus. I would have been okay never hearing or reading about this. I’m sure every single Olympic athlete has had a moment of indiscretion. It is unnecessary and ridiculous to make a media mockery out of each and every bump in the road.
Athletes must also stand up and take responsibility for their actions and inactions. It is not okay for them to cheat their way to the top. It’s offensive and takes the spirit out of the games. They should not give in to temptation. They should strive to be the best that they can be whether that places them at the Olympic level or not. Nations and governments have no right to pressure them beyond what they are capable of achieving naturally and within the boundaries of what is safe and practical.
Marred by controversy, I no longer wait with anticipation. In fact, I rarely take in the games anymore. The fun is gone. There is too much negativity surrounding the Olympics. When I do watch, I often find myself questioning athletes that appear to have super-human capabilities. It is really a gift or is it something more? I’d rather not watch with a mind full of skepticism and doubt.
Let’s hope that one day – possibly in my grandchildren’s lifetime – the Olympic Games renew with vigor, honor and civility. The world deserves an untainted experience.