WASHINGTON — The summer Olympic are upon us, and already they are spoiling things for those of us who like our summers restful and given over to reasonable pageantry, particularly pageantry in London. For those of you who have not been made aware of it, the Olympics are in London this summer, which is about as appropriate as holding the world gun fight championships in Rome just across the palazzo from the Vatican, if there are world gunfight championships. The gunfight championships should be held in an appropriate setting like Kabul or some Middle Eastern metropolis along with the world car bombing championships. London should be off limits for tasteless vulgarity.
In summer London is one of the loveliest cities on earth, and certainly among the most sophisticated. But how will we enjoy Shakespeare in the park or great concerts, or the British Spectator‘s annual summer party, when thousands of athletes are being offloaded from airplanes and preparing for their multitudinous over-hyped contests? There will be media and of course idiotic sports writers. There will be purveyors of sports equipment and even more egregious commercial interests. The Giant Corporations will be on hand to sell automobiles, perhaps even agricultural equipment and maybe gigantic land movers. Can you see Michael Phelps wearing a high tech swimsuit driving up in a John Deere e-series Wheeled Harvester and saying, “I go everywhere in my John Deere”? There will be ads for junk foods, nutritional foods, beer, and countless other products — all proud sponsors of the Olympics and the “Olympic Spirit.”
Well, count me out! I shall announce it here and now. I have slapped a boycott on this year’s summer Olympics. I shall not even attend the Spectator‘s summer party, and I especially relish it. There are journalists, serious writers like the great Paul Johnson, and many pretty girls, some wearing hats. They serve Pol Roger chilled to perfection. All you can drink! Alas, I shall stay at home.
Even back in the Cold War period when the Soviet stallions and geldings were flaunting their pharmaceutically enhanced muscles I opposed the Olympics. I swam on a swimming team (Indiana University’s) with teammates that actually were Olympians and world record holders. They accused me of being miffed about never making it to the Olympics. Of course, I never made the team. I hardly made it into the viewing stands for the Olympic trials. Yet, as it turned out I did not have to make the team. Bob Knight, the legendary Indiana basketball coach, had it right when he said, “Tyrrell, as your writing career has prospered your athletic career has too.” Yes indeed, I am often introduced as a former world-class swimmer so why should I have bothered training and missing out on all the fun of a college boy. I had the best of it: a lot of fun in college and no long hours in the pool. The legend will never die.
Yet back to the Olympics. The Olympic spirit died sometime back in the 1930s when Hitler politicized what the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, envisaged as an apolitical celebration of health and athleticism. Stalin continued Hitler’s work. With the dictators’ politicization came another body blow to old Pierre’s Olympic Ideal, the end of amateurism. All athletes from totalitarian countries and from nationalistic countries were essentially professional athletes. Now there is no distinction between an amateur and a professional, and the crass commercialization that has come to dominate the Olympics is appalling. Moreover, in America the sentimentalization of Olympians is positively sickening. Is there not one athlete, who made it to the Olympics from the land of milk and honey, with a silver spoon in his mouth, with parents who adored him, and one voluptuous break after another? Did every member of the United States team have to overcome hardship, rejection, episodes of poverty, and diseases almost too horrible to mention — but not quite? We the public are regaled with stories of what one prima donna athlete after another suffered or thought they suffered.
This summer as the Olympics are perpetrated in I shall go down to the neighborhood tennis court and watch the children and the old folks play. A game is a game, and sometimes a game waged by octogenarians is really heroic.