Day: February 13, 2013

THE POST-MODERN OLYMPICS

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.

Ancient Games

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…)

Advertisements

JIM RYUN RETURNS TO SITE OF RECORD RUN

Balboa Stadium 1960s
Balboa Stadium 1960s

San Diego’s Balboa Stadium formed a classic horseshoe design in 1965 when it was home to the AFL San Diego Chargers.  Today the place has shrunk in size and import as home to the San Diego High School Cavers.

Back in  1965 Balboa Stadium also hosted the AAU Track & Field Championships, the highlight of which was the one mile run, featuring New Zealand’s Peter Snell and Czechoslovakia’s Josef Odložil, the Olympic gold and silver medalists from Tokyo 1964.  Joining them in the field was the newly-minted American mile record holder, Jim Grelle, a product of Bill Bowerman’s University of Oregon program, and one other notable worth mentioning, a gangly high school senior out of Wichita East High School in Kansas, one Jim Ryun.

Last night an only slightly less gangly Jim Ryun stepped back into Balboa Stadium for the first time in 48 years to address members of the San Diego Track Club just before their weekly workout.  After his remarks and the surge of autographs and photos had slowed, Jim stood and recalled the night in 1965 that still stands as the most legendary that any U.S. high school athlete in track ever created.

Jim Ryun speaking to SDTC
Jim Ryun speaking to SDTC

“In 1965 I had just turned 18, and the day before the meet there had been a press conference, and I was not invited because I was a high school kid — which didn’t bother me.  But my coach, J.D. Edmundson, went, and he came back and said, ‘They asked Peter Snell what he thought about the kid from Wichita East.  And he said, “Well, one day he may be a factor in a race, and I’m sure he’ll have a great career”.  Well, J.D. was telling me that hoping it was going to fire me up.  But I was already fired up. I didn’t need that.”

Ryun remembers an electric crowd of around 20,000 that night in a stadium which held 34,000. ABC’s Wide World of Sports covered the meet live with Bill Fleming and Jim Beatty on the call. (more…)