The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Michael Phelps winning gold medal number eight, Shawn Johnson’s triumph on the beam, Usain Bolt’s relaxed and record-breaking rendition of the one hundred meter dash…everybody has his or her own favorite Olympic moment. But according to Bill Littlefield, it’s also important to recognize the context against which those moments shine. 

Some people have complained about what has allegedly diminished the Beijing Games: the charges that several of the female gymnasts from China are still teething, for example.
But not me. Certainly these Games, like all Olympic Games, are about exceptional performers…I would say exceptional performers like Michael Phelps, except that there’s never been anybody quite like Michael Phelps.
But what would be the Games be without the Chinese rower who misread the schedule, showed up late for his event, and learned that he’d been disappeared?  Sorry, disqualified. What would they be without the boxer from Tajikistan who was disqualified when he bit his opponent during a bout witnessed by Evander Holyfield, a portion of whose ear Mike Tyson bit off during a fight in Las Vegas eleven years ago? Oh, I appreciate the broken swimming records, the flying gymnasts, and the gritty return to contention of the U.S. Women’s soccer team, which lost their first match to Norway. Who wouldn’t be impressed by such brave and hard-earned triumphs? But constant beauty and uninterrupted near-excellence would be a rich diet over two weeks, no? “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work,” as Shakespeare put it, and no doubt what he meant was that athletic brilliance shines best against the shabby background of allegations of systematic cheating, questions about the eyesight and the integrity of various judges, and the weird story of a U.S. marksman who would have won a gold medal had his rifle not mysteriously gone off in his hands before he could aim it.
I’m all for the celebration of forty-one year old Dara Torres and the silver medals she won. I won’t even protest too much about the notion that revenge and redemption might be simultaneously achievable through victorious basketball, except to say that the notion is magnificently stupid. But, admit it, the story of the Spanish cyclist who fled the Olympic Village under cover of night even before her doping test revealed that she’d cheated lends perspective to everything else that’s happened in that village, doesn’t it?   Especially if it turns out she fled on her bike.   


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