The Common Good
September/October 2008

Let the Games Begin [wheeze]

by Ed Spivey Jr. | September/October 2008

Are you an Olympian?

Are you an Olympian? No, seriously, as you sit there in your comfortable chair—or, as our reader surveys have indicated, on that special seat in the bathroom—are you ready to represent your country competing against the world’s greatest athletes? I can see the doubt in your face, not to mention that thickening middle which suggests a marked dearth of world records. (I also noticed a bottle of Head & Shoulders shampoo to your left. Are we having a little problem?)

If not actually competing in the XXIX Olym­piad—which is Italian for either the 29th or 219th Olympics—then at least you’re doing your patriotic duty by watching this year’s Games on television, cheering on the U.S. teams as they compete in China, where the air is thick with anticipation, not to mention car exhaust and industrial pollution, which, depending on your perspective:

• make the city’s air almost unbreathable, or

• to quote the Beijing Chamber of Commerce, “it’s not smog, it’s a lavender twilight that whispers, ‘Take off that surgical mask my love, romance is in the air.’” (If U.S. athletes don’t bring home the gold at least they’ll return with headaches and shortness of breath. Win or lose, they’ll always have their X-rays.)

Air quality aside, China should be commended for emerging from decades of totalitarianism to finally join the family of nations, bringing together the varied cultures of the world, and then TOTALLY kicking their butts in ping-pong. And regardless of the athletic outcomes of the games, China’s generous actions as host will long be remembered in the words engraved on the Olympic torch, words that eloquently capture the true spirit of international competition: “Tibet Is Ours. (And the Dalai Lama is a Poopie Head.)”

FRANKLY, THESE OLYMPICS could not have come at a better moment. Our nation’s morale is at an all-time low with two wars, $4-a-gallon gasoline, and global weather patterns changing so dramatically that the National Weather Service had to rename its worst natural disasters. For example, a 500-year flood is now called, simply, “Hey, Anybody Seen Iowa?”

What better distraction from our problems than watching the exploits of our nation’s finest young athletes, several of whom will be competing without performance-enhancing drugs. (It’s some kind of new rule.)

Unfortunately, for those who can’t attend the Games, NBC will once again broadcast the event, meaning that at least a third of the Games will be pre-empted by saccharine up-close-and-personal videos, mainly of U.S. gymnasts and swimmers. (And gymnastics already takes up too much air time, given the new delayed scoring that, after each event, judges the quality of hugs given by coaches, duration of hugs by teammates, and the genuineness of congratulatory words from other gymnasts who could have nailed that landing SO much better, but NO, the coach had to give it to the popular kid!)

Despite its access to some of the most interesting and varied sports the world has to offer, NBC will instead give us the Great Wall of Boring. When we should be watching high-speed bike racing on a steep oval—where teammates switch relay positions by literally slinging each other by the arms—we’re stuck with a video of an American athlete walking around his hometown, observing that “being an Olympian is just an unbelievable dream come true.” (Greg Gumbel, tearing up: “Quite a story. Truly inspirational. Now back to Bob Costas in the booth.” Costas, turning away from the bike racing monitor: “What? Oh, yes, very inspirational.”)

There will be amazing feats in archery, judo, handball, Greco-Roman wrestling, and kayaking, all unseen by American viewers because a U.S. gymnast loves ponies and stuffed animals, and NBC thinks we should know that. (“I named this one Olympie, after the Olympics.”) Later, that same gymnast will add that she also likes raindrops and cookies, taking up time when we could be watching the weightlifting finals, where huge Eastern European men clean and jerk three times their body weight while shouting expletives in their native languages. These are men who, judging by the size of their legs, have actual trees in their genetic family tree, not the sort of men who have collections of stuffed animals in their homes. Animals that are stuffed, perhaps, but not stuffed animals.

But I’ll miss synchronized swimming the most, the beautiful sport that combines the gracefulness of ballet with the athleticism of gymnastics, not to mention the quick-acting response of nearby paramedics who have repeatedly warned people against combining ballet and gymnastics in the pool. “But they don’t listen,” said a frustrated Captain Lon Yi, of the Bei­jing Rescue Services, through an interpreter. “We’ve posted signs and everything, but they just keep jumping in unison, and smiling. Then they sink like stones.”

But we won’t see that. “... and I also like ice cream and, you know, spending time with friends ... .”

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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