An Olympic Rant

Like everybody else in the world, I’ve spent the last few weeks obsessively watching the Olympics on TV. No doubt like many other people, I’ve also been thinking, “Bloody hell, has it been four years already?” As with any regular event, it serves as a reminder of time passing by.

Four years ago, I was visiting England for a few days as it was my sister’s wedding. (Happy Anniversary!) I didn’t manage to watch any of the Olympics that year, due to the fact that I had no TV in my apartment. I doubt I really missed anything, although everybody at work couldn’t stop talking about it. I tried my best to bullshit along with them, not wanting to feel left out. Often I would just state the obvious and be met with agreement, “Wow, Usain Bolt is so fast, isn’t he? And what about that Michael Phelps, he can swim!” You’d be surprised how well this works. Something I realised was that nobody else really knew anything about Olympic sports either, so they couldn’t really scoff at my pathetic attempts at small talk.

The Olympics is one of those sporting events with its own gravitational force. Everybody gets caught up in the hype of the event and manages to find a lot of enthusiasm for things they usually don’t care about. I guess none of us wants to feel like we’re missing out so we watch along with everybody else. Nobody wants to miss some exciting, inspirational moment.

Nobody wants to be thought of as a tourist. You know when you go on holiday and pretend you’ve seen it all and done it all, because you’re better that the rest of the ignorant tourists. So you bullshit that you know things that you don’t.

The Olympics provide the perfect opportunity for people to bullshit. We all pretend we’re experts on things like trampolining or synchronised diving despite never having watched them in our lives. “Oh there was a bit too much splash there, she’ll get marked down for that!”

Suddenly we’re massive fans of things we don’t care about. We repeat things we’ve read in the newspaper or seen on TV to try and prove to others that we know our Olympic sport. “Did you know that Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian OF ALL TIME!?” Well, yes, everybody knows that, but still we like to pat ourselves on the back about knowing these things.

Even I’m not immune. A few days ago I found myself watching the 10,000 metres final with Jamie and her family. Mo Farah, a fellow Brit was the favourite to win. I know nothing about Mo Farah aside from that he’s a runner. I know nothing about the 10,000 metres either. I care little about either Mo or running.

Yet, there I was, pretending I cared if he won. I even found myself shouting, “Come on Mo!” and “You can do it!” When he won the race I cheered. I cheered!! If we hadn’t switched to the Olympic football a few moments later, I may have even shed a tear as he stood on the podium to receive his gold. Good old, Mo.

Looking back on this, I find it’s a bit pathetic. A horrible thing about human beings, is that we so easily get caught up in things. We all love to think we have free will, but we fall in with everybody else when we’re not noticing. Many we’re too scared to say, “You know what, I don’t actually give a fuck about the Olympics.” If you said this to most people they’d gasp and probably have you lynched. Yet deep down, I bet plenty would agree. People often don’t care about things, they just feel they have to care. Caught up in the hype.

Or maybe, deep down, I do care. But caring isn’t so bad in comparison to some people’s reactions. For starters, I’ve noticed my gym has suddenly got a massive influx of new members. All because of the Olympics.

When I go there in the afternoon, sometimes I can’t even get on a treadmill as there are so many people. I’ve also noticed that more people are cycling to work in the morning. Nobody in their right mind would cycle to work in Florida! Especially during the middle of the Summer. I can only assume the Olympics have inspired these people and soon after the event ends they will go back to the lives they had before. They’ll possibly feel like they’ve woken up after being hypnotised for a few weeks. Wondering why they spent a month’s wages on a bicycle and a cupboard full of lycra.

Inspiration is the cause. The Olympics would be nothing without inspiration. I’ve noticed time that sports have become less about winning and more about inspirational stories. Nobody cares about the Gold winner if the Bronze medallist has a cousin dying of some rare cancer. The Olympics has been turned into a reality TV show. The only people that matter are those with sob stories.

I pity the man who comes seventh in an event who doesn’t have a sob story to tell. Imagine spending four years of your life going through intense physical training, knowing that you won’t win a medal but also knowing that absolutely nobody cares about you because your cat doesn’t have AIDS.

It can’t be denied that sometimes the Olympics is inspiring. But when that inspiration is pre-packaged and unnatural it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I’m sure we’ve all seen a montage of a sportsman, with sad plinky-plonky music in the background. Slow motion tears and inspiration, inspiration, inspiration. This inspiration is so in your face that you know you’re being emotionally manipulated, that just leaves me feeling angry.

And it’s all just a sport anyway! Ok, I hate that argument. “Why would you watch football, it’s just a bunch of men chasing a ball!” I don’t believe that. Sports do have some meaning. But I think perhaps we give sports and sportsmen way more credit than they deserve. Watching Olympians is fun and all, but they’re not exactly spending years of their lives in a lab, slowly trying to break down cells to cure cancer.

The only thing these sportsmen inspire is people to do more sports, not to do things which perhaps might benefit the world a little more. Yes, Michael Phelps has 23 gold medals, but aren’t there other people that should be celebrated instead?

Breaking a world record is an incredible feat, but shouldn’t we be more inspired by scientists that are trying to prevent climate change or eradicate polio. But then I suppose these things don’t look good in slow motion and aren’t really exciting enough to put on TV. Maybe scientists need to build some muscle mass and start working in speedos and they may get more airtime.

One of the more appealing inspirational stories of the Olympics has been of Yusra Mardini. Yusra is a Syrian refugee who now lives in Berlin. She escaped Syria by boat, jumping into the water to help push the boat through the water. Now she is competing in the Olympics on a special team of refugees. To improve matters, Yusra is quite attractive and nowhere close to the stereotypical image of a Syrian. Also she speaks English with a cute accent. All of these things make her story appealing.

I admit, her story is inspiring. Fighting for survival and a better life. That’s something that most of us will never have to deal with. Her story must have had TV producers salivating and I’ve seen numerous segments and news articles about her. But there’s something bittersweet about Yusra. Her inspiring story is being used purposely for an emotional reaction. It’s been overproduced and bottled up.

Last night, I saw her story being used in a Visa card commercial. What has any of this got to do with Visa cards? Absolutely fuck all. But if you’re going to have an ad during the Olympics, it has to inspire somehow. Even if it has absolutely nothing to do with the product itself. Doesn’t this kind of detract and cheapen her struggle somewhat?

More annoying is the weird comparison between this girl’s story and a general feeling both in America and the UK currently: xenophobia. Isn’t it ironic that a Syrian refugee’s story is being used as inspiration, while so many people in both countries generalise that these people are all terrorists who want to steal our jobs and inflict Sharia law on us?

In a way, the inspirational story does some good. It is helping to pull down some barriers. Maybe it will change a few people’s minds about refugees. But then I see people having a laugh at the expense of the Saudi volleyball team and their clothing and I think that maybe it won’t change anything after all.

Yusra’s story is a good one but like everything in the Olympics, it will be forgotten about in a few weeks. Everybody will go back to normal for another four years. The inspiration will be short lived.


Photo of Olympic Rings by Garry Knight, published under a CC license.

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