Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Fair Point about Olympic Greatness

I'm not really pro- or anti-Olympics. I follow it about as much as I follow any other sporting event, which is to say mostly not at all, but with a few ratchet turns upwards for playoffs, Bowl Games, tournaments and the like.

I'm not really pro- or anti-Michael Phelps. I keep hearing about him on the news and just think, "Good for him...he's talented, he works his tail off, and he deserves all this respect, attention, love, etc."

A guy I work with, however, made what I thought was a really good point the other day, and though he's usually pretty negative in general, I heard him out and wound up agreeing with him.

"There's all this fuss about Michael Phelps being called the greatest Olympian of all time, greatest athlete of all time, etc. But he won this whole bucketful of medals for essentially the same thing. Other athletes might be just as good in their respective sports, but it's not like there's an 8-pound shotput, a 10-pound shotput, and a 12-pound shotput that each give someone the chance to win a gold."

Now, I realize there are different strokes involved in swimming, but still, I think he was onto something -- most Olympic athletes aren't even eligible for anywhere near that number of medals in the first place.

This is not to take away from Phelps' status as the greatest swimmer ever.

Nor is it to take away from his amazing accomplishment and reflection upon his country.

Still, I had to concede, the guy had a point.


kad barma said...

Same thought occurred to me when I read about the IAFF refusing to consider changing the timing of the women's 200 and 400 meter races so that Allyson Felix could both race Sanya Richards in the 400, as well as have her shot at four golds instead of just three.

Matt said...

The Super Bowl makes sense to me. So does the World Series. These are sporting events that huge swaths of people who don't watch said sport at all during the year tune in for -- but they are buttressed by the fans who constantly watch, week in and week out.

But no one cares at all at any point in the year about swimming. There are world championships and American championships and premiere events and no one gives a shit. And yet 66 million Americans watched Michael Phelps swim last Saturday night. He is a tremendous athlete, but it's still weird to me why people suddenly became rabid swimming fans. Americans are apparently in love with the idea of "greatness," even when they have absolutely zero context for it.

Nick said...

Good points all...

I haven't been paying too much attention to the games, so I have only heard about the surface, non-sporty issues.

Like the Chinese gymnast whose actual age is now the subject of intense investigations. Okay, so two years ago, the Chinese government said she was 12, and now they say she is 16--which makes her eligible for the games.

What does it say about a sport that being 14 as opposed to 16 is a tremendous advantage? hmmm

I've read some critiques of this scandal that focus on the exploitation angle . Like "oh that poor little girl, being used by her government". News flash folks--under-16 girl gymnasts are being used and exploited all over the world, even if they can't con their way into the Olympics. This is going on in Orangeburg, NY, Stokholm, Sweden, and Seoul South Korea.

These critiques are particularly laughable considering the thousands of Chinese children who actually are exploited in sweat shops and factories.

The New Englander said...


Thanks for all these great comments...I've tried to tell people this in person but despite the number of caveats it always tends to get misinterpreted as anti-Phelps blasphemy, which it's absolutely not.

I loved these takes..