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CARLTON PEAK…. The 2016 Summer Olympic Games are set to begin and I do have a little excitement building to see them. I first started watching them as a kid growing up and have always been in awe of the games themselves and of some of the real touching stories of the athletes. The first time I can recall seeing the games was probably the 1964 Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan. These games were remarkable for the things that happened away from the competitions as well as the competitions. The South African team was banned from the games due to the continued apartheid issues in their country.
These were also the games where American boxer Joe Frazier won the Gold Medal, future NFL player Bob Hayes was a 100 meter sprinting phenomenon (I would later see him play for the Dallas Cowboys in person) and American Don Schollander would win 4 Gold Medals in swimming. As I began to get a bit older and was exposed to a then-world seemingly out of control, I would begin to see the entanglement between the sporting world and politics. At the ripe age of 13 in the summer of 1968, by the time the next summer games would come around, I was still trying to understand the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
The 1968 games in Mexico City were famous for the medal stand protest put forth by American Track & Field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos. After both medaled in the 200 meter event, while on the podium, they wore black gloves and black socks in a show of support for the Civil Rights movement still unfolding in the USA even after the signing of the 1965 Civil Rights Act. Both raised their gloved fists to the Flag when the American anthem was played. Australian Pete Norman wore a civil rights badge as a show of solidarity with Smith and Carlos. The Americans were banned for life from the Olympic Games and Norman was kept off of the 1972 Aussie team. I saw this protest happen live on TV. It was historic, it was powerful and I doubt I will ever forget it.
In 1972 we had the tragedies in Munich Germany at the Games where a radical Palestinian group named Black September killed 11 members of the Israeli team in a terrorist attack. Live on the spot TV coverage for matters like this were coming into their own, and there was a lot of live broadcast from the scene at the time. It was a somber and sobering event. The stars of those games were American swimmer Mark Spitz and Russian gymnast Olga Korbut. Spitz won 7 Gold medals and Korbut won a team Gold and 2 individual Gold’s. No one was smiling though, the attacks still at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts.
The Olympic Games would move forth, television would have more of a grip upon them from a production value point of view and from a commercialization perspective. In some instances I watch some of the individual sports and think to myself this isn’t a competition, these athletes are just performing. They are performing for the cameras, performing to the audience (not necessarily for them) and dreaming of big dollars waiting for them if they do well. It has actually gotten out of control in my book.
The opening and closing ceremonies now have to make Hollywood classics appear as B movie trash, they are carefully scripted, made for TV masterpieces. And if they’re not the rest of the games themselves can’t possibly be that good. The Grand du Homage paid to these events can be nauseating at times. But I still watch. And obviously I am in total love with the Winter Games (hockey!) over the Summer’s. But when the athletes march into the Stadiums to open the Games, each with their fellow countrymen and women, proudly waving their flags, as they should, when they see their fellow competitors and shake hands or even, in some cases, embrace heartily and sincerely, perhaps not even being able to understand one another’s language, I have some hope. I have hope that perhaps we stupid humans may not be doomed after all.
These games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will be interesting. Many questions still abound as to whether Rio was a quality site selection or not. I mean Jumpin’ Jesus, 70 percent of the city is one of the biggest slums in the world. And to refer to them as slums probably isn’t adequate, there just has not been a word descriptive enough to cover the atrocity that this place is. The Bay whereby some of the water events will be held has been called unfit for humans to be in, some athletes pulled out because of that and even now there are some serious questions about water quality there. The water conditions are failing bacterial testing and there are allegedly several viruses present in the sampling.
There are also many other events going on in the world right now combining terrorism, violence, geopolitics and the like that leave one to ponder about the overall safety of the athletes, fans and others involved in these games. Protests do not merely include a raised fist inside of a glove anymore, the protests of today are very violent and made to have as much shock value as possible. And that usually translates to death. We are in a sick, dysfunctional, depraved world right now. And an event like this will have many eyes upon it. It is a troubling thing to have to even consider.
I hope these games will pull off in spectacular, positive fashion. The worst news coming from Rio these days is that they are simply not ready to hold these games. I hope that isn’t the case. As cynical as I can be at times, and even feel that there is ample reason for that, some of the greatest moments I have seen in my lifetime or participated in have come to me through sports. That old Wide World of Sports thing, the joy of victory, the agony of defeat, that’s for real folks. It most certainly is. And I am hoping for the greatest Olympics we have ever witnessed! PEACE