Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Olympics: past and future

I am currently taking part in an activity that truly unites the world. Yes, I like my brethren the world over am sitting on the couch watching the Olympics. It's a tradition that harkens back to 776 BC, though the couch surfing event is a more recent though no less historic landmark. There have been many memorable moments in the past 75 years of televised Olympics. So much of the history of the Olympics has been this odd mix between the spirit of international solidarity and the need to prove national supremacy.

In 1936, the Olympics in Berlin served as a soapbox for Hitler to broadcast his ideals of Aryan supremacy to the world. After the USSR began competing in 1954, many of the Olympic competitions and rivals became surrogates for the larger Cold War that was developing between the USSR and the western world. At the height of this tension in 1980, the US led 66 nations to boycott the Olympics being held in Moscow. In retaliation, the Russians boycotted the 1984 Olympics in LA. For further color on how much sports was dominated by national fervor, does anyone remember Rocky IV and the machine-like Russian boxer. Yes, the US always sees itself as the underdog. Well, in 1984, Russian didn't show up, but China did. And now China is also using the Olympics (we all remember Beijing in 2008 right?) to showcase national pride.

And yet, part of me thinks this will eventually change as well. A week ago I wrote about the eventual evolution of the Role of Nations. I was watching the Olympics when I noticed that you can see this change already happening with the Olympics. Athletes that live and train in the US but compete for other countries are quite common. However the opposite happens as well, such as Vancouver native, Dale Begg-Smith who left Canada as a teenager because the ski program interfered with his business endeavors. Subsequently he set up shop in Australia where his business earned him millions. Oh, and he's won gold and silver medals for Australia in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. Some Canadians view him as some sort of traitor (He's easy to hate because his company makes malware), but really he's just a new-age citizen of the world where national borders make less sense.

Another thing I notice is that I no longer just root for the American. More importantly, NBC's news coverage doesn't just push you to root for the Americans. Sure, they do MOST of the time.
However, good stories (or at least sappy ones) seem to trump national interest. NBC spent more time on covering the love story between Chinese skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo than they did for some entire sports. NBC clearly wanted Canadian mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau to beat out the Americans because of the power of breaking a record (first home Canadian gold). Of course his brother who has cerebral palsy got more airtime than he did.

So what will the Olympics look like in 2200? Here's a crazy thought. Maybe instead of the walk of nations, we'll have the athletes enter the games in a fashion more convenient for the viewing audience. They can enter by the story they most closely identify with.

Imagine the newscast:
From "Triumph over poverty" we have 212 athletes.
"Recovery from debilitating injury" brings 143 competitors this year, and look at their outfits this year. Wheelchairs! How ironic.
"Love" is only sporting fifteen athletes this year, but it's the first year we've had an odd number of people in the category.
"Family member with a better story than me" is down this year to only 156 athletes. I guess globally universal health care is finally doing its job.
Here comes "Redemption." Oh, I'm sorry I'm being told that they changed their name this year to "Courage."
And finally, here comes the big one... at total of 5,874 athletes have just entered the stadium under the banner "Could possibly break a record or any minor statistic where any specific number that has not been achieved before can be realized." Wait is that our news correspondent intern Jack walking down there with the Athletes? Yes that is. He's trying to break the record for number of video recording devices wielded by one person while entering the stadium during opening ceremonies, surpassing Apollo Ono's record of eight set way back in 2014.

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