The Olympic Movement: Signs of Hope
Recent generations of Americans may not know that the original purpose of the Olympic Movement was for the “gifted amateurs” of each nation to come together and compete in an atmosphere of spirited, friendly and fair competition. The relatively recent inclusion of professional athletes in the Olympics was in response to the Soviet perversion of the Olympic Movement.
The Soviet Union corrupted the Olympics by making it an extension of the Cold War.
Determined to beat the United States at something, the Soviets began a selection and recruitment program for potential Olympic athletes that began at the grade school level. The best and brightest athletic prospects were taken from their homes and concentrated in government-operated training camps where they were given the best food, the best training facilities and the best coaching the communists could lavish upon them.
The Red Army Hockey Team was a case in point. They were not soldiers. They were the best hockey players the USSR could assemble and train. Playing hockey was their profession. That is why the defeat of the Red Army Team by an ad hoc collection of American college boys in 1980 is called: “The Miracle on Ice.”
Even so, the West got tired of putting up its amateurs against Soviet professionals and that is why we now see professional hockey and basketball players included on national teams. To purists, this was not a welcome change.
But the greater damage done to the Olympic movement by the Soviet Bloc was the stacking of judging panels in those sports where subjective judgment is the deciding factor. This “fixing” of the outcomes to favor Soviet Bloc athletes has been most notable in the world of figure skating.
The Soviets exerted enormous pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to have not only the USSR but also their satellite countries represented on the judging panels. Vote fixing and vote trading among the Soviet Bloc in the subjectively judged events allowed the Soviets to carry away medal after medal. That is what makes the Russian anguish over the Salt Lake Olympics so amusing. Obviously, the Russians need grief counseling. They should call:1-800-279-2229, that’s1-800-CRY-BABY.
Clearly, the fix was in when the Russian pair of figure skaters was awarded a gold medal. But the performance of the Canadian pair was so obviously superior and the television coverage so pervasive that a worldwide uproar ensued. When the French judge documented that she had been pressured to trade her vote for the Russian pair in return for a Russian vote for a French pair in another event, the ugly truth about what has been going on for years and years became so manifest that it could no longer be swept under the ice.
If for no other reason, the Salt Lake Olympics should be remembered as the games that set in motion a return to judging Olympic athletes by their performance and not on the basis of East-West geo-politics.
But the Olympic movement has another reform to make. This business of bribing the Olympic venue selection committee with lavish gifts from cities and nations trying to curry their favor must stop. The IOC must find men and women of integrity whose decisions will be based on what is the best venue for the athletes rather than on lining their own pockets with fancy gifts and even cash.
That said, the world has been treated to the sights and sounds of some truly remarkable young men and women who have been as magnanimous in victory as they have been gracious in defeat.
Sixteen-year-old Sarah Hughes presented the world with a wonderful lesson when she went out on the ice, not to win a gold medal, but to skate for the joy of skating, to compete on the “fields of friendly strife,” and did so it so brilliantly that she won a gold medal. By her shining example, Miss Sarah Hughes has blessed us all.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn, a novel about terrorism in Colorado’s high country. See: www.thegrandconspiracy.com.
©2002. William Hamilton.