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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Rio vs. Previous Olympics:

Let's look at the Olympics of the past and then count our blessings about the Olympics that begin tomorrow.

Old Olympics had few athletes, few events, and only a handful of countries attending.  It was a small scale thing for a small scale economy and small scale population.  It was charming, of course, but can't possibly be compared to the enormous worldwide competition it is today.  Simply the lack of television coverage is sufficient to nix any quality to these games in comparison to modern ones.  4.7 billion people watched the Beijing Olympics.  Only a few people in the stands ever watched all the olden ones.

There was a brief spate of relatively good Olympic games from 1952-1968, but these Olympics still didn't include China, a massive portion of the world.  They still didn't include many major sports that we take for granted being in the Olympics today, like tennis.  They still don't have even remotely gender parity.  Starting in 1964, South Africa is banned from the Olympics, starting the era of using the Olympics as a political weapon instead of a peaceful celebration of sport.  There's no chance any of these Olympics could compare with the modern day's.

Then, from 1972-1988, the Olympics is a pure disaster.  Terrorists attack in 1972, rendering the entire games moot.  In 1976, the entirety of Africa boycotts the Olympics, while the East Germans are doping like crazy and the Soviet modern pentathlon star is caught with a rigged epee that automatically counts him as scoring whenever he pleases.  The budget goes way out of line and Montreal ends up taking 30 years to pay back its debt.  In 1980 half the world boycotts the Moscow Games, and again in 1984 the other half of the world boycotts the LA Games.  Obviously neither can be counted a success.  In 1988 South Africa was still banned from attending and a plethora of additional nations like Albania, Cuba and North Korea continued to boycott the games.  The South Korean boxing event was so unbelievably unfairly judged that nothing like it has ever happened before or after.

1992 was a breath of fresh air for the Olympics, where finally everyone was on the same page, the boycotts and doping scandals were over, the judging was fair and there were no terror attacks.  The Games even made a profit.  As of 1992, they were the best Olympics ever.  But the same problems remain as before -- far fewer sports were being competed, far fewer athletes were competing, gender parity is still woefully short, all in all it's still just a small games on a small scale.

1996 had horrible security problems.  A terror attack went off, killing one and injuring 100.  Tons of spectators were victimized by muggers as the public transportation system completely broke down.  The heat was so bad that the athletes and events were markedly affected.  Why on Earth would you host the Summer Games in Atlanta?  Whose bright idea was that anyway?  The opening ceremony included pick-up trucks.  Enough said.

2000 was almost perfect, but the unforgivable mistake of the vault being 5 cm too low during the women's artistic gymnastics all around final ruined the entire competition.  Multiple gymnasts were hurt attempting to do this now sabotaged vault.  Svetlana Khorkina probably wouldn't have made a mistake on the uneven bars if she hadn't originally fallen due to the sabotaged vault.  And to top it all off, the true gold medalist, Andrea Raducan, was stripped of her medal for taking an allergy pill, something so petty that the code against doping was subsequently changed to allow medicine like that, but still her medal was never returned to her, despite putting in such a glowing performance before all the gods and all mankind that showed she deserved to be #1.  Screw the 2000 Olympics, they had their shot and they ruined it.

2012's London was almost perfect, but I can think of a couple complaints.  The fact that it no longer had baseball or softball, that it had fewer athletes than Beijing, and the obscene cost of the games, three times as high as the average, all speak against it.  In addition, since Viktoria Komova was robbed of her all around medal and it was given as an affirmative action measure to the first black champion Gabby Douglas (this isn't Gabby's fault, she just did her best, this is the judge's fault for awarding her 4/10 higher on uneven bars than any other time in her life), the whole Games were polluted by political correctness/anti-Russian bigotry.  Ironically, if the corrupt judges had just waited four years, Simone Biles would have won the all around legitimately in Rio and their purpose could have been served fairly without cheating anyone.  But I guess after waiting 116 years for a black champion, they just couldn't wait those last four more.

If nothing goes wrong in Rio, it will naturally be better than London because it has more sports (Golf and Rugby), more nations (Kosovo and South Sudan), and a much more responsible price tag.  This will be the first Olympics to ever include every square inch of the inhabited world.  (Greenlanders participate via Denmark).  There is the issue with so many Russians banned, but Russia brought it upon itself by doping so much.  The IOC took a responsible position on the issue so it doesn't really mar the games.  I certainly prefer an overly zealous attention to clean games than the 1976 monstrosity of overly dirty games.

If not for the Russian kerfluffle, Rio could've been the best Olympics ever.  So long as there isn't an unforeseen crime or terror disaster or whatever, though, it can still end up better than London's.

There are only two Olympic Games that we can be sure will be better than anything Rio can manage -- Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.  I'm going to go ahead and give both these Olympics the title of co-champion.  Athens for hosting the games in its historical heartland, right next to the Parthenon.  And Beijing showing the world through its splendid opening and closing ceremonies and its perfect management of all the events inbetween that this wasn't Mao's Communist Hellhole anymore.  In fact, China may well be the new center of the world.  Welcoming the new China to the world stage was an act of international diplomatic brilliance.  Both these Olympics still had baseball and softball, something Rio still lacks.  How can you call yourselves the Olympics when a game as massive as baseball is still missing from the world's greatest sports festival?  Thankfully Tokyo will fix that in 2020 -- at which point Tokyo has a good chance of vying for the title of best games ever itself.

So before people start complaining about all the problems with Rio, take a step back and realize how blessed we are to be complaining about such minuscule nothings.  It's no longer the height of the cold war.  South Africa and the rest of Africa are all here to play.  China and Taiwan are both here to play.  There are more sports than ever, and women are finally being given as much respect and as many events as men.  What used to be an event exclusive to people of European descent is now being hosted for the first time in South America.  There's less doping than ever before.  No Israelis are being slaughtered on German soil, bringing back haunting memories of the Holocaust.  It isn't just before or after a World War.  Compared to how Olympics used to be, we have no idea how lucky we are, how wonderful that the world could become this peaceful and cooperative and united as one.

Yes, Rio isn't perfect, just like London wasn't perfect.  It's hard to compete with an Olympic Games held in the very same sacred ground as when the Greeks and Romans were competing in it, and it's hard to compete with those synchronized drummers.  But that isn't the proper perspective to be viewing the games through.  Compared to the hundred years before that, Rio is a miraculous improvement.  And yet people want to cancel the Games now, in their moment of triumph?  When we have 4.7 billion people watching more sports than ever before, with athletes from literally every, yes every, corner of the globe?  If the Olympics can survive 1972-1988, they can survive Rio.  If you were ever going to cancel the Olympics, it would've been then.  At least then it would have made some sense.  Now the only counterargument to the Olympics' clear brilliance and splendor is pure, unadulterated spite.

The Rio Olympics starts tomorrow.  I for one am going to enjoy them.  I won't have to speak up for them anymore because from tomorrow on, they'll speak for themselves.

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