An Olympic-Sized Disappointment

The Greeks created the Olympics around 750 B.C.E. as a gathering for the world’s greatest athletes to compete at the highest level. Over the past two thousand years, millions of people have traveled around the world to watch athletes compete. In the past, people have packed the stadiums to see moments like when the 1980 US Men’s Hockey team beat the supposedly unstoppable Russians and when Austrian Franz Klammer electrified the world with his crazed final run to win the 1976 downhill skiing gold medal. All that seems to have changed now that the world has entered the era of the X-Games, professional money, and bad attitudes. Part of the excitement of the Olympics used to be that you were able to watch sports that weren’t seen that often on television. With the advent of 24-hour sports channels and their seemingly insatiable appetite for content, competition like the X-Games, World Cup Skiing and extreme snowboarding have become almost as ubiquitous as baseball and football. Along the way, many of the Winter Olympic athletes have also lost the heart and spirit of what once made the Olympics so special. Witness the near empty venues of Turin. While reports from Italian organizers say that ticket sale levels are right where they expected them to be, virtually any televised event appears to be half empty. Since a great deal of the tickets were bought by Olympic corporate sponsors looking to give them away free to clients and customers, the problem might be actually worse than it appears. Free tickets and still no one came. Additionally, the media has also done its best to set athletes up for failure by billing them as Olympic champions even before the torch is lit. Bode Miller, an American Alpine Skier, is just one example of an Olympic athlete given too much ego boost. He was named the “American Rebel” in a recent Time Magazine article because he is largely outspoken, skis recklessly, makes rude and obnoxious statements about competitors, and skis in competitions while drunk. Now there’s an Olympic athlete to get excited about. In his first three events, Bode was disqualified, came in fifth place and did not even finish his final race. Although Miller is a former world champion, it quickly became obvious that he should keep more of a focus on skiing rather than whether or not people believe he takes performance-enhancing medications. One group that should be more concerned with that matter is the Austrian cross-country ski team, who had their apartment raided by Italian officials last week for suspected blood doping. Perhaps the best of the worst came from twenty-one year old Lindsey Jacobellis, a snowboarder from Vermont, who was in first place in the Snowboarding Cross gold medal race. She was leading the race by almost 50 yards with 100 yards left to go, and in a very X Games manner, she decided to pull a stunt to top off her race. The purpose of the race was for speed and distance. Lindsey completely wiped out. Luckily, she had already created enough of a lead that she came in second place and received the silver medal. When later asked about her disaster, she acted as though she really did not care that she had made a complete fool of herself. She seemed not to acknowledge that pulling a stunt like that was not appropriate for the Olympics. The Olympic Games just are not what they used to be. Athletes no longer see them as the most important competitions of their careers because they know that when they go back home, there will always be another day for them to become “World Champion.” Could that possibly explain why people no longer go to the Olympics?