Rio 2016

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio have gone off without too many hitches so far. Not a small accomplishment in a country whose government is one of the most corrupt in recent memory, even by South American standards, and in a city, beautiful as it is, which has a level of crime and poverty that makes 1970’s era New York City look like Disney World. But the Olympics are the Olympics with its hundreds of compelling stories. Except this time the response of the world and the US viewing public, has been mostly a shoulder shrug and “Meh.”

Olympic History

Since its modern inception in 1896 just about every Summer Games have had some type of memorable drama either during the games or leading up to them.

The list is endless; Jim Thorpe’s incredible feats in 1912, Jesse Owens embarrassing the Nazis in 1936, Abebe Bikila’s barefoot marathon victory in 1960, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Black Power salute in 1968, the 1980 US boycott and so on. So why on the biggest stage for athletics is there virtually nothing of interest in 2016?


Well for starters, for Americans anyway, there is no great rival anymore. From 1956 to 1988 USA vs. USSR in any sport was the reason to tune in to the Olympics.

Good vs. Evil, Freedom vs. Communism, the Cold War played out on the athletic field. The dissolution of the USSR in the 1990’s took a lot of spark out of the rivalry even though Vladimir Putin seems to want to revive the “Evil Empire” both on and off the sports field as his political actions have shown, and the fact most of the Russian Olympic athletes have been banned for doping.

No rivals on the horizon

China could be considered the US’s next big rival but both countries rarely compete on an equal level in sports that hold the American spectator’s interest as the 119-62 US vs. China Men’s Basketball result would suggest. ISIS has no Olympic team and I don’t foresee Iran picking up the slack any time soon.

No competition

Rivalries aside, the chasm between countries like the USA that can send large contingents of well-trained athletes and those that cannot afford to send any athletes at all has widened in the last twenty years.

Even the most patriotic, flag waving American could probably take little satisfaction in the US vs. Senegal Women’s Basketball game which wasn’t in doubt even before the opening tip off (final score US 121, Senegal 56). Whereas in the past the Olympics were full of stories of athletes from small countries overcoming such things as war, crushing poverty, and famine to win gold, those are now few and far between, if they happen at all.

What to do

I will of course watch the Games and root the USA on, but not with quite the fervor or passion I once did. Can interest be rekindled? Maybe. Should the Olympics be canceled?

I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet. There is still a nobility to the Games and the athletes who have the skill to qualify. At the end of the day the modern Olympics’ founder Pierre de Coubertin got it right 120 years ago.

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