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.
That is why the Modern Pentathlon, a martial-oriented expression of an 18th century cavalry officer’s skills, was expected to be the odd-sport out when the IOC voted to remove one of its core 25 sports for 2020. But since Modern P was invented by none other than Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, its pedigree and political pull evidently saved it. Modern Pentathlon’s first vice-president is Juan Antonio Samaranch, Jr., son of the former IOC president. Junior also sits on the current IOC board, leaving wrestling pinned to the mat and out.
Back in London we recall that 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 the prancing of the rhythmic gymnasts, followed by the fluidity and schmaltz of the synchronized swimmers. Not sure this is what the Greeks had in mind for the Olympics, but if Dippity-Do and nose clips 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. The IAAF must find the will to introduce a week one glam-fest of its own in order to maintain credibility. We’ve seen only a hint of what’s needed by the extra glaze of makeup worn by many of America’s sprint queens 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, for sure. 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, Bob, 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 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 dancing, I mean vaulting. 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, cheerleading and air-canon T-Shirt launching are already applying for Olympic designation. We can’t get left behind.
Wait a minute! Wrestling, you still have a shot to get off the mat and back in the Games. The IOC will add one sport later this year, as part of a process to “renew and renovate” the Olympic program. Wrestling will join seven others — baseball and softball, wakeboarding, sport climbing, squash, roller sports, karate and wushu, a Chinese martial art — that have applied for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Games. That will be decided in September.