August 20, 2004
So we all know that the Olympics started approximately three-thousand years ago in Greece, and it’s a groovy thing that they’ve returned there because it gives us a chance to see how far things have advanced. For one thing the modern Olympics are truly multi-national, while the original Olympics were just a chance for a bunch of Greek guys to get naked in a field and play "Who Wants To Be A Marble Statue?" every four years. Sure, there were different groups, but when it came down to it the Spartans were a bunch of Greek guys with no decorating skills, and the Athenians were a bunch of Greek guys with edifice complexes. You didn’t have commentators on the sidelines saying, "You know, Pindar, the Assyrians have put together a really good archery team this year," to which the other one would reply, "You’re right, Dan, but my money’s still on the Hittites." The closest the original Olympics came to being multinational was in 137 B.C. when the Phoenicians tripled the price of laurels two weeks before the competition started. But one thing both the original Olympics and the modern Olympics share is they’re competitive events that are also educational. Here are some things I’ve learned from watching the modern Olympics:
The swimwear styles of the 1920’s are alive and well. Maybe you’ve seen one of those old-time pictures of a man in a striped body suit wearing a pince-nez and wading manfully into the shallows at the beach. Or you might have seen a picture of a woman in a similar suit, except with ruffles, being arrested for indecent exposure. Well, those body suits are back…and they’re worn by some Olympic athletes. Except without the ruffles.
One of the swimming commentators will continue to speak in a normal voice after the competition begins. The other will scream at the top of his lungs. The commenting will go something like this:
Commentator 1: And they’re off. The Australian got a really good lead, but the Japanese swimmer just might medal this year, which would be a real surprise. What do you think, Dan?
Commentator 2: I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! THEY’RE IN THE WATER! THEY’RE ALL DOING THE SAME STROKE! LOOK AT THOSE GUYS GO!
Commentator 1: Now the American swimmer is coming up in the slipstream, and he just might overtake the Canadian. What do you think, Dan?
Commentator 2: THIS IS INCREDIBLE! ONE OF THOSE GUYS IS MOVING FASTER THAN THE OTHERS! HE JUST TOUCHED THE WALL, SPUN AROUND, AND HE’S GOING THE OTHER WAY!
At least one commentator for every event is named "Dan".
Gymnastics is unbelievably depressing to watch. This is because gymnastics is the only time in sports or, for that matter, life, that you will hear anyone say something like this about a participant: "Well, Dan, she’s seventeen now, so her career is pretty much over." Most of us didn’t even know what we were going to be when we were seventeen. Gymnasts, on the other hand, will retire, move to Florida, spend most of their time walking up and down the beach with a metal detector, and eating supper at 4:30 before they can even legally drink, vote, or go see an ‘R’ rated movie unaccompanied.
The national anthems of Hungary and Iceland are almost exactly the same. Actually you probably won’t learn this from watching the Olympics because chances are any event where either Hungary or Iceland has even a remote chance of winning won’t be broadcast. I have no idea what Hungary and Iceland are best at, whether it’s the shot-put, kayaking, fencing, or goat-throwing. Whatever it is I wish them and all the other competitors luck. Sure I’m going to cheer on my own country’s team, but when it comes down to it I like to think that the competitions will be fair and everyone will get an equal shot at winning. I like to think that all the stories of doping, all the bickering about whether a deduction was fair, all the finger-pointing, and blather about too many empty seats can be put aside just long enough for everyone to get out there, give it their best shot, and let the best athlete win. I know that’s naive and idealistic, but it’s not like I’m asking for something completely impossible – for instance, that the swimming commentator would stop yelling.