Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An ode to the Kool-aid.

I'm a winter Olympics person, myself. Hockey, curling, luge. All the sports that involve brooms or the possibility of death on ice.

This is why I've been surprised to find myself glued to the coverage for the past few nights. Donnie and I can't get enough of this stuff. Last night we watched some swimming and the women compete in team gymnastics. In this latter event 'women' turned out to be a relatively loose term. This sparked some frustration and a bit of a debate between us.

I agree that the Chinese team seems very young, and the minimum age requirement of 16 (or 15 at the very youngest) seems a distant hope for some of them. Where the debate comes in is who should be held responsible for this? Obviously not the girls themselves, Donnie and I both agreed. On one hand the athletes are chosen at a very young age to be groomed for national stardom. They get the chance to be singled out for their abilities in a nation where that sort of recognition is often seen as selfish and unpatriotic. Unless of course it's serving the cause of patriotism (nationalism). On the other hand they are taken from home at a young age to train relentlessly in the pursuit of something that is very individualistic and elusive for most. We see the results of this at events like the Olympics in the superior athletes China puts forth, but you don't have to look too far to see evidence of the human rights violations that have come to light as with this year's venue. What happens to the thousands of children selected that don't progress as far as the few handfuls of medalists?

So back to the issue of what to do about it. Take away the medals when it comes out years later the athletes falsified their ages? Ban the country from sending athletes? Demand stricter guidelines of proof? When it comes to proof for the women's gymnastic team their country's government has it: passports and birth certificates that state what sometimes seems an impossibility. It's a tricky question. What do you think?

Donnie got quite worked up about what is, in the end, cheating. We watched the Chinese soar through their routines and the Americans floundered. His frustration is totally understandable, and I felt it as well but I think many people feel the same way about American athletes. While Chinese athletes are state funded Americans rely on sponsorship and private funding which is awesome. I do think it's wonderful that the Olympic athletes America sends are a product of the fundraising of individuals and corporate donations. At the same time you could argue that not every country has the revenue to be able to do this sort of thing, and therefore the athletes from some countries may look at the US with the same frustration that we felt about China. The advantages of rigorous training funded by a huge economy are not available to some countries and thus it might seem impossible that they could beat the indomitable China and US. It's actually a nice analogy for communism vs. capitalism when you think about it.

Many countries do well with public funding. I believe that all of the athletes competing in the Olympics deserve to be there. They have qualified and they should be able to compete. I actually adore that it's such a microcosm of politics and economic stature that takes the form of athletic competition. It's probably one reason why I'm so entranced by the Olympics this time around.

Whatever the competition and the country competing I'm enjoying the sport. Whether you choose to delve into the backstories or not I hope everyone has some time to watch the truly amazing athletic spectacle that's going on right now.

End of somewhat divergent ode.

I'm curious as to what people think about this. Comment if you feel so moved.

1 comment:

Litzner said...

I too am a Winter Olympics person, mainly for the skeleton. Those people are just NUTS!