The 2008 Olympics as I see it

I’ve never entirely understood the whole international sporting event/diplomatic convention thing that is The Olympic Games. I am always reminded of the barbaric Roman Colosseum “games”, which pitted slaves against vicious animals and armed soldiers in fights to the death to please the elite ruling class or those lucky enough to avoid participation in the battles. Similarly, the Olympic Games brings together people from all over the world to exhibit their physical strength and willingness to push their bodies to the limits of human endurance, which allows us non-participants and our governments to find some kind of nationalistic pride in their endeavors. Especially here in the U.S. of A., we only give a shit about the gold metals our “teams” earn, not the athletes that won them. Maybe I’m reading too much into the events, but that is kind of my style, y’know?Anyhow, this year’s games are being held in Beijing, China and the media seems to be doing some of their own hyper-analysis on the subject. Issues of China’s human rights abuses, out-dated economic policy, and civil liberties are the main focus of Olympic news talk and if I didn’t know any better I’d might mistake the Games as something more than a series of athletic competitions!

Maybe this focus on everything but the games is due to the fact that the summer games blow. As far as entertainment value, the winter games have much more to offer the average ESPN viewer. This could be because their are fewer sports showcased in the winter edition of the Olympics, so more coverage is devoted to each event & that makes silly shit (like bobsledding) seem interesting. The winter games appeal may also lie in the fact that the United States isn’t expected to win as many metals as they are during the summer ones, so the drama factor is increased. Whatever the reason, the summer games seem to inspire yawns ‘round these parts.

Starting on Friday (08/08/08, right Elaine?), the 2008 Summer Olympic Games will attempt to gain our attention with some truly uninteresting sporting events. Archery? Hasn’t been entertaining since Robin Hood beat the Sheriff.* Handball? Isn’t that the game that Mexican dudes play against walls in public parks with that hard blue ball (that, by the way, totally stings if your hit with it)? Table Tennis? Badminton? And the worst offender – Synchronized Swimming! There are a few summer sports that always earn recognition in America (usually because we kick ass at them). The best example is Basketball (both Men’s and Women’s), which is pretty much a guaranteed gold metal for the U.S. There is always substantial buzz surrounding Women’s Gymnastics (remember Carrie Strug’s vault performance with a busted leg? Dumb chick…). Women’s Soccer/Football is another sport that generates a lot of press, mainly because America dominates in this one as opposed to it’s less than stellar performance of it’s Men’s team. I’m sure Mia Hamm’s strip tease in 1996 helped a bit as well. While I may never understand the inclusion of the Ribbon Dancing or Trampoline events, I cannot fault the Olympic Committee for including Beach Volleyball in the Summer line-up (in addition to regular Old School Volleyball). Now there is a kick-ass sport with major spectator drawing power! Plus, considering it’s origins on California’s beaches, it’s sort of a regional favorite.

Any discussion of the Olympics is incomplete without a little gender-based analysis (or at least, any discussion with me…). I am not entirely clear on why nearly every event must be gender segregated (the only exceptions being the Equestrian and badminton mixed double events ). I guess separating sexes for Soccer/Football, Basketball, Field Hockey, and Wrestling might make sense. Men tend to weald more upper-body strength, Women can endure pain for longer periods of time, and muscle mass is significantly different between the sexes, so co-ed contact sports might not be the best idea. BUT I can’t think of a single good reason for gender separation in sports like archery, shooting, BMX cycling, diving, or sailing. Do testicles or a uterus really effect the performance of a sailor? Really? Then, of course, there is the few remaining sports that are exclusive to a specific gender in the eyes of the Olympic Committee. Both Baseball and Boxing are Male Only sports; Synchronized Swimming, Rhythmic Gymnastics, and Softball are the realm of Only Women. It’s tempting to suggest that not enough men or women compete in some of these sports, but when an event like Women’s BMX Cycling exists with only 16 participants I find it hard to believe that the international community is lacking in enough male rhythmic dancers or female baseball players to at least include the fucking events. The thing that bothers me the most about gender with regards to the Olympic Games is the quotas dictated by the Olympic Committee that reduce female participation in almost every event. Not that more female competitors weren’t available, it’s that The Powers That Be cap the number of women athletes substantially beneath the number of male participants. Such is the case with both of the canoe events (233 male athletes vs. 95 female athletes), all of the cycling events (380 males vs. 148 females), track and field (1100 dudes vs. 900 chicks), and Judo (217 He-Men vs. 147 She-Ra’s). Doesn’t seem right to set rigid quotas that perpetuate the notion that male dominated sports are naturally gender specific.

Luckily my feminism doesn’t interfere with the only Olympic events I give a damn about: Basketball and Soccer/Football. I’m a team sports type of gal, I guess! Both events feature Men’s and Women’s teams, both have equal gender quotas (there are 4 fewer women’s football teams, but not because of quotas), and both sports appear to be American strong suits (aside from Men’s Football, that is). Men’s B-Ball offers a politically interesting possibility, since Iran has the only Asian team in the event & a face-off with the U.S. could create all kinds of political metaphors. It would be entertaining to watch Dubya use such a game as reasoning for an invasion of Iran, however, it’s unlikely since Iran’s team is laughably without game! We’ve got LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony! The gold is in the bag, baby. Our Women’s team ain't too shabby either. The Sacramento Monarch’s Kara Lawson, the legendary Lisa Leslie of the L.A. Sparks, and last years #1 draft pick Seimone Augustus of the Minnesota Linx round out a team that I see as unbeatable. As far as Men’s Soccer is concerned, Brazil and Argentina are likely to kick our asses (no surprise here). Our Women’s team has a good shot at the gold, but Brazil and Germany might pose a threat to that goal (get it? Goal? I’m super witty.). At any rate, the games should provide more than a few glory moments for our guys & girls in Beijing and, in turn, for us at home.

Go, Team USA, Go.

*Just to clarify, I thought of the Robin Hood reference on my own, but the Olympic Committee couldn’t think of anything better and they used the same reference on the official ‘08 Archery webpage. Sort of sad that archery’s apex was a fictional account from centuries ago!

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