With yesterday’s news that the IOC executive committee voted to drop wrestling from the Olympic calendar beginning in 2020, I thought it worthwhile to resurrect portions of a previous post written at the conclusion of the London Games. As the IOC is more anxious than ever to market the Olympic Games for (their) monetary gain — Avery Brundage must be apoplectic in his grave — what then of the place of Athletics (track & field) in the Olympic movement going forward? Given wrestling’s once-firm standing among the pillars of both the ancient and modern Olympics, how safe should athletics feel in this world of the Post-Modern Olympics?
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 Michael Phelps swimming and little girl gymnastics live. And this favoring of less-martial, more female-oriented sports was in even greater evidence in London. Not only did American Idol host 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.
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 the 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. (more…)