August 8, 2008

Taking It Home: 080808

I've attempted to explain my love for the Olympics in at least two conversations this week, and both times I've dropped Cool Runnings into the discussion.

Cool Runnings is the reason I look forward to the Olympics like most kids look forward to Christmas?

Not exactly, but it's a movie that most people are familiar with, and one that displays the best aspects of the Olympics for me: the stories of people tirelessly training for years in unimaginable conditions, only to rise up on the world's stage and prove they are literally the best at some athletic feat. In short, Cool Runnings demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit.

As part of Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the city's own Steve James (Hoop Dreams, At the Death House Door) directed this short video:

These are the stories that interest me, and I'll be closely watching for them over the next two weeks. I know the majority of people brush off the Olympics as fixed, boring, superficial, exploitative, or meaningless, but I still believe there are Cool Runnings-like stories that exist in all their purity and innocence. Besides, politics and controversies aside (and there are MANY with the Beijing games), I get pretty patriotic seeing an American win a gold medal.

And medals aside, how awesome is it to see humans run and swim at mindboggling speeds?

P.S. Make sure to see Man on Wire, opening today at the Uptown. It's one of the best documentaries of the year, and though it doesn't necessarily relate to the Olympics, it emotionally hits me in the same soft spot. I'll have a review up next week. In the meantime, check out the praise from Sam Juliano and Craig Kennedy.


  1. I loved the Olympics when I was a kid, but it seemed then like they were farther apart. Partly because 4 years seems like forever when you're that age, but partly because the didn't alternate Summer and Winter like they started in 1992. With one every 2 years, it doesn't seem as special to me. Still, I'll watch.

  2. I love the Olympics. In fact, I'm having people over tonight for dinner and to watch the opening ceremonies.

    I hadn't thought of "Cool Runnings" in years, but just thinking of it while reading your post makes me smile.

  3. That's a good point, and I don't know why they made that switch after Barcelona/Albertville. I suspect it was a marketing ploy of some sort, maybe trying to get more attention on the Winter Games, which just aren't as popular. Seemed to backfire after Harding/Kerrigan in Lillehammer 94, though - anyone remember anything from Nagano 98 or Salt Lake 02?

    Anyway, I like both Olympics, and I'd love to go to one someday.

  4. Nice, Pat! I'll also be watching tonight. The ceremonies somehow don't do as much for me as the competitions (it doesn't really make sense), but I'm a sucker for fireworks and packed stadium events.

  5. Man on Wire features the Best Scene of the Year So Far. You'll know it when you see it...

    Oh yeah, hope you're not afraid of heights.

  6. Yeah I still love the Olympics too. Can't wait to watch the opening ceremonies, and to watch what I consider the "pure" athletics events, meaning the ones that don't require panels of judges to "decide" who did best. By the way, unfortunately the most memorable event of the '02 Salt Lake games was the rigged judging and vote-swapping of the ice figure skating.

    But back to the sports that I do enjoy watching, like swimming (not diving - again, judges) and track & field: your explanation hits the nail on the head for me. The marriage of human emotion, global ambition, and triumphant physical phenomenon is totally riveting.

    It's a pity with the time difference that I won't be able to see as much live from China this time around ... I always enjoyed the waiting and interviewing and video-vignette-showing before the track and field events ... sometimes 20-30 minutes of tension just building and building before seeing the live event, which was sometimes over in just seconds. I find the whole spectacle fascinating still; and like you Daniel, I am definitely a sucker for ginormous stadium events.

  7. "The Reason"...

    The IOC is one body, and they oversee everything involved with *both* the summer and winter games.

    As they started to grow bigger and bigger, they began to relaize that they just didn't have the resources to stage both in the same year. So they split them up to avoid having three years at normal speed and one year running full tilt.

    2002 was pretty memorbale for us here in Canada.

    First there was the judging controversy in pairs figure skating surrounding the rightful (and eventual) winners Sale & Peltier.


    There was Canada's winning the gold medal in ice hockey for the first time in 50 years. An American friend of mine who was living here at the time said that he'd never seen celebrating like that on a national scale before.

    In his words "You'd think you guys just won a war"

  8. I hate to be a downer about this, but as much as I loved the Olympics for so many years, as many inspiring things I saw in the course of the competitions, when Michael Jordan was allowed to compete on the U.S. Olympic Basketball team, it was all over for me. The spirit of sportsmanship gave way to commercialism. The Olympics became produced, from the TV coverage to having Steven Spielberg advising on opening ceremonies.

    Yes, Daniel, there are still stories like these, but these athletes are aspiring to compete in something that has lost its luster. Judging scandals, bribery, choice of countries that ignore human rights has totally discredited the IOC in my eyes.

    I sent a letter to the IOC pleading with them not to choose Chicago, a city rife with corruption that have degraded basic city services and human rights abuses. What did they do? They shortlisted it. If Chicago gets the Olympics, the citizens who are already paying a hefty corruption/mismanagement tax won't be able to pay the thing off in their lifetimes.

  9. Well, the opening ceremony was basically the most spectacular show ever put on in history. I think that's a fact, based on the number of performers and fireworks alone. Probably never going to see that at any future Olympics. Good luck, London!

    That's true about the non-judged events being the best ones, Josh. Too bad there isn't an objective way to measure diving, like smallest splash or something.

    Haha, that's an interesting anecdote, Hatter, and thanks for the explanation about the scheduling. I think the Vancouver games are going to be one of the most anticipated winter games in years. I've never been there but I've heard it's pretty awesome. Too bad the Canadian dollar will probably be as valuable as the Euro by then...

    It's definitely fair criticism, Marilyn, but I suppose I look at it in a historical context and say that there have always been "bad" host choices. Berlin in '36 was obviously unwise, and even the U.S. could have been considered evil during some of the Olympics it's hosted. Sydney in 2000 was questionable for me, too, with their history of abusing native Australians. Certainly there is a history of hosting cities going bankrupt as well, from Sarajevo to Montreal.

    Considering all of this, however, and the millions of Chinese who were displaced by the construction of the Beijing Games, I'm still torn. China basically proved itself last night to be the world's emerging superpower, no questions asked. Any doubts that they will take over the U.S. soon may have been put to rest.

    I admit that I let the "fan" side of me color my impression, despite the fact that I've been active against the Darfur crisis for years. There's no way China should get a free pass on this, and I'm hoping the Team Darfur athletes will be able to raise awareness like Joey Cheek did.

    Anyway, I guess it just struck me last night that the Olympics can be viewed as a kind of marker for a country's progress. There is so much going on in China, and for better or worse, it should all be coming out on the table over the next two weeks. Hopefully...

    Regarding Chicago, well, I have to say I would be utterly shocked if Rio didn't get the bid for 2016. The Olympics have never been in South America, and like China, Brazil is ready to bust out on the world's stage. With the oil they've recently discovered, who knows how their country will have advanced by 2016. And yet, how could the favelas overlooking Rio be ignored?

    I appreciate your concern about the host cities. I really do. I just don't know how to settle on a city that doesn't have some kind of major problem to consider.


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