Star Wars: The Clone Wars


medal count

While the first televised Olympics in history were the 1936 Berlin summer games (an event that had historical significance outside the world of broadcasting), the first broadcast by a U.S. company were the 1960 winter games in Squaw Valley, California. It was also the first time the nationalized medal count was included in the presentation of the games. For the record, the Soviet Union took 103, the US took 71, and Germany took 42.

Actually, let me rephrase that, since the International Olympics Council doesn’t actually keep explicit records of how many medals each nation accumulates during a given Olympics. Of course, you can find that information if you want: just check the IOC’s records for individual events, identify the nationalities of the medalists, and tally up your scores. But the IOC won’t do it for you. Why? Because the focus on the games isn’t about nationalistic pride. Or at least it shouldn’t be. What it is, should be, and has always essentially been about is individual (and, by extension, team) excellence in sports, having the best athletes from the entire planet challenge each other to the limits of physical ability in a constant search for excellence. Only the networks push the interest of national achievement, as if Uncle Sam himself was the coach of the women’s beach volleyball team.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the medal count was brought into the television broadcast during the cold war, the same time period where we had to differentiate ourselves from the godless commie bastards by adding “under God” into the pledge of allegiance. What does the medal count provide us except for some jingo-istic sense of nationalism, that our athletes are the best in the world, regardless of their actual sport or achievement? Honestly, who seriously cares how many medals the United States wins? Or China? Or Australia? Does that really tell me more about that particular country, either politically, socially, culturally, or economically? All it really says is “that country has more medals than the other”, which of course carries the subtext “that country is BETTER than the other.” While I sometimes find myself thinking this very thought about certain nations, our own included, I’d like to think that my decisions are based more on geo-politics or cultural mores, not whether a Brazilian can row faster than a Norwegian.

Besides, isn’t it more interesting to see how these athletes challenge and inspire themselves and each other to new heights, to seemingly impossible and insurmountable physical feats, regardless of what corner of the globe they’re from?

See, I love the Olympics. I love the notion of competition – healthy competition – pushing people to their physical best. We talk a lot about the transformative power of art and how it can provide us with a glimpse into the inner life. But how about the way sports shows us the exquisite beauty of the body and what we can do with it? To watch someone run a four minute mile, or swim 100m in just north of 45 seconds, or skate, throw, dive, fence, whatever, is, like art, a constant act of discovery. Sports are not just entertainment; athleticism is a statement on the limitations and potential of the human body and how much control the mind might have over it. And while I have a love/hate relationship with our “Redeem” Team (if I’m gonna watch basketball, I do want to see the best play), I think it’s great that the Olympics is historically an amateur event in which these star athletes only stay on the tips of tongues for a few short months every few years. I think it’s awesome that Michael Phelps is a superstar right now. The dude’s a swimmer! A swimmer! How many professional swimmers can you name? Maybe you can name a couple now, but could you three months ago? And yet he’s the one guy everyone’s talking about. He’ll probably slip from the collective consciousness a few months after the games are over, only to be revived in another four years (and most likely mentioned in 2 during the winter games). But for the time being, thanks to his incredible physique and record-breaking swimming ability, this guy is the most popular American in the world. And the best part: it has nothing to do with him being an American.

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 6:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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