Get Back to the Basics Again

Photo by Frans van Heerden on

The Olympics have a storied history. Most people know that they actually began in Greece, but what few realize is that those male athletes of old performed their feats in the nude. There have been lots of changes since those days and many events added that the ancient Greeks would not have understood. It seems that we humans have invented so many sports over time that it is difficult to decide which competitions to include every four years. 

I recently learned that in the early twentieth century croquet was featured in the Olympic games. Evidently it had become a very popular Victorian era pastime and somebody thought that spectators might enjoy watching a rousing game with representatives from around the world pushing the wooden balls around with their mallets. The hoped for competition only lasted one time in the menu of sports for the Olympics because when the day of the competition came there was only one spectator. So much for the wide world of  croquet!

In truth I would love to see the Olympics return to their roots, with clothing of course, as well as the inclusion of women. If I were to only watch certain events they would all be in track and field. Somehow those seem to me to be the very essence of human athleticism. Other than better shoes and aerodynamic clothing, it is only the athlete who determines the winner. Track and field is about strength and speed and a bit of thinking. It shows the human form at its finest. 

I often think about how track and field events are not dependent on the economic or racial status of an individual or a country. A talented individual  from a third world country is just as likely to be a competitor as a wealthy individual. Track and field is an equalizer and I love that aspect of the sport. 

One of my sporting heroes is Jim Thorpe, the native American who won the gold medal for the pentathlon and decathlon in 1912. As a child I read books about him and a movie about him continues to be one of my favorites. I was both delighted and fascinated by his story. Later I would feel he same way about Jesse Owens whose four gold medals in sprints and the long jump flew in the face of Hitler’s Aryan superiority theories. 

I suppose that I love stories like these because I have watched economically disadvantaged students struggling to compete with wealthier students who have had training in various sports from the time they were children. It’s very difficult to overcome the economic challenges of going toe to toe with athletes who have the advantage of the finest equipment and private trainers. When an individual manages to win on sheer native talent there is something quite stunning and inspiring about that.  

Of course today there are talent scouts everywhere searching for gifted athletes wherever they may be. The Jim Thorpe and Jesse Owens stories are rare. The Olympics are a big money event and those who make it there have been carefully trained with lots of investment in time and money. This reality does not make them any less talented, but it takes away some of the excitement of hoping to see an unexpected hero emerge. Today’s games are often a foregone conclusion and in most cases the predictions about who is most likely to win come true. 

I wish that those who broadcast the Olympics would devise a system that allows viewers to choose what they want to see. Of late there is far too much blathering from the commentators and focus on sports that have little interest for me. I know that volleyball is important to some people, but I am not one of them. I’d much rather be allowed to pick another event that is happening at the same time. I’m sure that others agree with me. Why not let a mega fan watch all of the soccer games rather than only the ones that have been chosen by the television crew.?

I understand that the producers have to pick and choose what to show or else the expense will be unbearable, but in recent years the programming all too often focuses on sports that make me yawn. I suspect that is why viewership is down. Perhaps the Olympics have become a bit too commercial and maybe they have added too many new sports over the years. I really don’t understand why anyone would think that shooting should be included in the mix or for that matter horse riding. 

I’d like to see the Olympics go back to more of a focus on the basics. The last one felt like an abysmal fail, a pandemic notwithstanding. The whole thing has become far too commercialized. Jim Thorpe lost his medals because he got paid to play ball while he was training for the Olympics. Now such a tragedy will not occur because athletes are allowed more leeway in earning funds to keep them afloat while they practice. Still, we seem to have gone too far in the other direction as athletes make a fortune with ads and endorsements that seem to be the driving force behind what the stay at home spectators get to view. Some of the glory is tarnished by the commercialization. It’s really time to get back to the basics again, but please keep requiring the athletes to wear clothes.