Now that the Olympic flame has been extinguished in London, the time has come to consider the lessons learned and to plot the road ahead. Certainly, Team U.S. A.’s track and field medal haul of 29 deserves high praise, especially given the wide swatch they cut through all disciplines and distances, sprints to distance, throws to jumps. On the far side of the track there was the modest number of distance-only medals returning to Kenya (11) based on their own high expectations. But both those evaluations and interests are parochial in nature. What of the overall place of Athletics (track & field) in the Olympic movement going forward, especially to Rio in 2016?
Red flags should have been raised in Beijing 2008 when NBC lobbied the IOC to move track out of the primetime viewing slot in the U.S. so they could show more swimming and gymnastics live. And this favoring of less-martial,more female-oriented sports was in even greater evidence in London. Not only did Ryan Seacrest make his Olympic debut, but with women making up more than 50% of the U.S. Olympic team for the first time, the interest in fashion and glitter hit an all-time high. So what comes to my mind is the question of track’s relevance within those new parameters.
In ancient times Olympic events emulated the speed and stamina needed for warfare. One such event, the hoplitodromos, or “race of soldiers”, had competitors covering 800 meters wearing full battle armor weighing as much as 60 pounds. The idea was to sublimate war-like tendencies into athletic competition, and thereby foster peaceful coexistence among the city-states. Of course women weren’t even allowed to watch those contests, much less participate in them. Only free men who spoke Greek competed. But in recent times, with a welcome and ever-increasing focus on empowering women throughout the world, we have seen the Olympics move gradually away from the warrior ethic of old, and evolve toward a Cirque de Soleil mise-en-scène.
While regular gymnastics and swimming dominated the first week of NBC Olympic coverage, week two not only brought track & field into the Olympic stadium, but continued to showcase swimming and gymnastics as they entered their Monty Python-inspired Silly Seasons.
First, came prancing the rhythmic gymnasts, followed by the fluidity and schmalts of the synchronized swimmers. Not sure this is what the Greeks had in mind for the Olympics, but if this is the direction the IOC is going, track and field cannot sit idly by simply running, jumping, and throwing. The trends are evident and obvious. We must find the will to introduce a week one glam-fest of our own in order to maintain credibility. We’ve seen only a hint of what’s needed by the extra glaze of makeup many of America’s sprint queens now sport in competition. But we have a long way to go to match the Boy George extravagance of the rhythm and synchro kids.
The kittens are fully out of the satchel now. It’s just a matter of time before the IOC cuts to the chase and escorts the hookers onto the Olympic podium – with NBC in full coverage mode.
“Did you see that dismount, Jim? A full pelvic reverse with two twists, the judges are going to love that.”
“Yes, and by the looks of things, the member from Hong Kong was especially taken. I’ve got the Dutch team well up on the French at the end of round one.”
They’ve already sold an official Olympic condom sponsorship package. How much of a stretch would the hookers really be? And just tip that Nike swoosh up and you’ve got the perfect four-inch stiletto heel for the award podium, too. Bordelle and Agent Provocateur vie for the official uniform contract…Get with it, IAAF! Hitch up your unitards!
The IAAF just announced a lame new World Relays initiative combining everything from the 4 X 100 to the 4 X 1500 coming to the Bahamas in 2014 – unfortunately, no Distance Medley Relay or Ekiden Road Relay. But where’s the need for hair gel, glitter and Hula Hoops in any of that?
Besides, we’re heading to Rio in 2016, the home of Carnival! You think shorts and singlets are going to grab eyeballs? We need to create our own Cirque de Soleil Vegas tryouts. Apply the grease paint and get going with rhythmic 100-meter hurdles and synchronized pole vaulting and high jumping. Bring Revlon in as the national team sponsor. Hire Tim Gunn from Project Runway to “Make it work”.
What’s to lose? Everything’s to gain. Trampoline dunking, pole dancing and air-canon T-Shirt launching are already applying for Olympic designation. Don’t get left behind.