Ladies and gentlemen! Children of all ages! Step right up and explore the wondrous world of the 19th Olympic Winter Games – the Greatest Spectacle on Earth!
Has it really been two years? Or is it four? No matter – the circus is coming to town! The amazing, colossal Costasensational five-ring circus is back! Seventeen days of the greatest athletes the nations of our fragmented planet can afford, whooshing and schussing and curling, all the while striving to be faster! Higher! Stronger!
And while the frequent highlight montages and heartfelt biographies interspersed throughout coverage of the Games will celebrate athletes’ nobility, determination, and commitment to the Olympic Spirit, reducing some to emotional tears and others to steely-eyed gazes into sunsets, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Olympic Games are the world’s biggest farce.
...the glory of the temple persisted...on account both of the festal assembly and of the Olympian Games, in which the prize was a crown and which were regarded as sacred, the greatest games in the world. -- Strabo, Geography, 8.3.30
In true Olympic tradition, the absurdities of the modern games are rooted in those sacred absurdities of the past.
Cheating and bribery were as rewarding back then as they are now. In ancient Greece, even ne’er-do-wells got statues erected along the roadway to the stadium. Flash forward 2500 years, and Lillehammer-to-the-kneecap gal Tonya Harding shows off her own physical form in a cheesy "wedding night" porn video.
And how about that nudity? Athletes originally wore shorts but, according to one ancient writer, Pausanias, a competitor deliberately lost his shorts so that he could run more freely during the race in 720 BC, and clothing was then abolished. Modern prudence determined that today’s participants be clothed for all events, but that hasn’t stopped the world’s finest physical specimens – from oh-what-a-figure skater Katarina Witt, to the entire Canadian women’s cross-country ski team (aka "The Nordic Nudes") and many others – from stripping down for a good cause.
"We did this to raise money," Canadian ski team member Sara Renner told The Calgary Herald, "but also to raise the profile of cross-country skiing across Canada. I've been racing for 10 years and the profile of the sport hasn't improved, and this is a way to get cross-country skiing as a household sport, even if we have to take our clothes off to do it."
Funds. Awareness. All that stuff getting raised. Is that the only motivation?
"We wanted to prove we're not all butch lesbians. We are attractive, feminine girls who play soccer," said Amy Taylor, a member of the Australian women’s soccer team, which also created its own nude calendar.
Time was, though, when women weren’t allowed to compete in the Games, whether clothed or naked. Not until the incredibly disorganized but highly liberated Games of 1900 (in Paris) were women able to penetrate the sex barrier. The pioneer was Margaret Abbott, of the United States, who played that most phallic of sports – golf – and took the gold. However, Abbott didn’t realize the nine-hole tournament was an Olympic event when she signed up to play, and left without claming a prize. She died in 1955, and never was informed of her historic first.
Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, probably banged her head against a nearby temple pillar a few times following Abbott’s unwitting achievement. After all, Nike herself (as a goddess) was excluded from worship at the Olympic Games…seems the "no girls allowed" rule extended even to deities. But while Nike may not have gotten her foot in the door in 1900, she got her shoes in sometime in the 1970s. Somewhere in the past three millennia, the Games went from being an offering to the gods from the people…to being offerings to the people from the gods. Some of the gods are familiar, such as Nike, Mercury, while others are new, such as McDonald’s, or the holy trinity of Bud, Weis, and Er.
Finally, since the days of Olympic bribery are almost completely behind us, it’s up to clever Olympic organizers to figure out how they can get their own share of the gold. Following the same logic of the gods that determined a t-shirt with a swoosh is more valuable than a t-shirt without, the brilliant members of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee (motto: Nearly 85 percent Osmond-free!) launched an unprecedented campaign of stamping stuff with an Olympic logo.
The Salt Lake 2002 online store features such valuable Olympic merchandise as a $74 Dutch Oven ("Cook your favorite dishes in the spirit of the games!"), a $55 leather Palm Pilot case ("Hold your information holder in Olympic style!") and the Light the Fire Within CD ("Made to provide Utah students K-12 with a foundation of Olympic values, this CD celebrates the 2002 Winter Games with performances by Osmond Second Generation, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and many more!")
Okay, maybe 55 percent Osmond-free?
The most desired of all Olympic trinkets are the pins, a collectible rage that really hit its stride back during the Lillehammer games. In addition to individual pins for each event, there’s a shrewdly designed set of 12 interlocking pins ($13 each) which form a "picture puzzle that beautifully commemorates the sports and spirit of the Winter Games." You can’t order the whole set – they’ll be released monthly, so the Olympic spirit stays with you for a whole wonderful year.
For the less sports-minded, there’s still bound to be a pin to suit your fancy. Try the Dutch Oven Pin (again with the Dutch Oven?), Foaming Beverage Pin or the inspirational Mmm Waffles Pin...sure to look delicious on any lapel, jacket or hat!
So remember, while you’re sitting through the twelfth straight day of figure skating couples compulsories...you know, about the time you’re wishing snowmobile demolition derby was an event...you’re sharing a moment across time with the ancients. Witnessing all the drama of the human spectacle...er...spectacle of the human drama. Treat the Games with the reverence they deserve: it’s pronounced "looj" not "loogie"; it’s now a "bobsleigh," not a "bobsled"; and the leading American speed skater really is named "Ohno."
And if the Olympic gods and goddesses so move you...the Canadian skibunny calendar is all new for 2002.
Let the games begin!
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
ABOUT RUSS CARR
more about russ carr
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
2.4.02 @ 2:19p
The crazy thing about the Dutch Oven pin is that it is a souvenier of a souvenier.
2.13.02 @ 2:55a
Did anyone notice how, during the opening ceremony, Bob Costas and Katie $$$$$ were shredding other countries as they were introduced? It was unbelievable.
lee anne ramsey
2.13.02 @ 6:24a
Better not hop on the anti-figure skating bandwagon too quickly - those skaters are the Ricki Lake Dramas the Olympics needs for ratings.
so it seems.
2.13.02 @ 8:32a
Good gravy, I hate these olympics. From the scandals to the inclusion of these odd, subjective sports to the gross spectacle of the thing.
A couple of points.
Snowboarding? This is a world sport? How come the half-pipe isn't in the summer games? Or BMXing?
Why did we dust off Picabo Street this year? No offense to her, but she's the Anna Kournikova of skiing without the looks.
I'll hop on the anti-figure skating bandwagon, Lee Anne. I'm not afraid of them (well, a little). Anyway, if you're going to call this a sport, don't bitch when the Russians win on reputation. Either that or quantify the scoring.
2.13.02 @ 10:05a
Favorite quote of the opening ceremonies (which, as much as I do enjoy watching figure skating, 'cause I can't balance on skates, much less flip and twirl, so I'm in awe of the ability, is all I will watch of the entire 2 week fandango): Timex man Jim McKay says, as the puppet bison is illuminated, "Look at all those little bison...dealies...in there."
I have to admit, I liked the Indian presentation. That was cool. But even then I wasn't respectful. When the chiefs were talking to the Olymipians in native tongue, Matt and I were translating: "Give us our land back, shitbirds."
2.13.02 @ 10:11a
Anyone catch the Uzbek girl skating with the broken foot? Just for sheer willpower, that was impressive.
2.13.02 @ 11:28a
my favorite part about these games is all the extra coverage utah is now getting. as if the mormons really needed it ... these white-walled kids are more ubiquitous worldwide than a mcdonalds on I-95.
2.13.02 @ 12:00p
...with a foundation of Olympic values...
Ah. Yes. The events of the past few days really reflect those, don't they?
2.13.02 @ 12:26p
See? This is why I only ever watch fictional television. The reality stuff is so fake.
2.13.02 @ 1:51p
Opening ceremonies were terrible. How many Olympics are we going to have to watch the same lame recreation of how this land was settled?
And Joe, if you think snowboarding is bad, the next Summer Olympics will include Bridge as a trial sport.
Yes, I said Bridge. Let that sink in for just a moment.
2.13.02 @ 2:25p
Well, I've been feeling as though the octogenarians have been overlooked as Olympic competitors.
michelle von euw
2.13.02 @ 2:27p
Tracey, I cannot believe that Jim McKay made a reference to the former Brian Williams. "Bison...Deles..." That is hysterical!
2.13.02 @ 3:15p
A few months ago she pulls out Dwayne Schintzius. Now Brian Williams. Michelle never ceases to amaze me...
And man, is Jim McKay looking bad or what? He looks like an apple that's been left out in the sun.
2.14.02 @ 8:53a
Russ, they stole your column title for the latest SI.
2.14.02 @ 9:09a
Remind me to start copyrighting my titles.
In no big surprise, both TSN and SI had the same "Patriots Day" headline last week. Synergy!