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Olympic boycott? Bring it on!
By Michael J. Smith
Communist superpowers seem to be under a curse when it comes to the Olympics. First, there was the boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, back when the Russians were still Communists, and now there are rumblings – most recently, from President Sarkozy of France – that the upcoming Beijing Olympics might meet the same fate. (The Chinese, of course, have remained Communists, in theory if not in practice.)
I say let's get this Olympic boycott out of its Commie ghetto. Why should the Reds have all the luck? Let's boycott every Olympic Games everywhere, until the whole foolish enterprise collapses under the weight of its own absurdity.
For one thing, the Olympics are bad for sports. Take cross-country skiing.
Time was, the only people you saw on those crazy skinny skis were leathery, well-preserved WASPs of a certain age, dressed in itchy wool from scalp to sole, shuffling quietly through virgin snow in Central Park or along abandoned railbeds and logging roads in New England.
No more. The sport has changed, from something Henry David Thoreau might have enjoyed, to one more variety of Edward Abbey's “industrial fun.”
I blame the Olympics.
You hardly ever see that understated old-WASP shuffle any more, which left nothing more than two slim parallel tracks a few inches apart in the snow. Olympic competition, with its worship of speed, gave us the groomed trail—a yards-wide roadway through the woods, its snow cover tamped down by a gasoline-driven machine into a firm, slick surface. And the groomed trail, in turn, gave us the skating stride—a fast, showy, side-to-side, road-hog technique, favoring the young, long-legged, and aerobically fit (as if we needed more of that sort of thing).
The skating stride, in turn, calls for a different kind of skis and boots, which you can't use on plain old unimproved snow.
The trail enabled the technique, the technique needs the new gear, and the gear requires the trail. So in these Olympified days, cross-country skiing means driving to a “cross-country center,” paying a trail fee, and following a trail map.
The trail map shows you where the noisy, smelly, trail-tamping machine has gone—and where, as often as not, you'll find it coming raucously up behind you, or cresting a hill in front of you, simultaneously providing your paid-for sport and making you feel like a bicyclist on Third Avenue.
But the worst thing about the Olympics is what it does to our souls. The best-photographed Olympics ever was, of course, the 1936 Berlin Games, where the sinister genius of Leni Riefenstahl found a subject that really suited her style.
Face it: the Olympics are, well, a bit fascist. As the late Susan Sontag wrote, about Riefenstahl's Olympic film:
“[O]ne straining, scantily clad figure after another seeks the ecstasy of victory, cheered on by ranks of compatriots in the stands, all under the still gaze of the benign Super-Spectator... whose presence in the stadium consecrates this effort.... Fascist aesthetics include... a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain.... Its choreography alternates between ceaseless motion and a congealed, static, ‘virile’ posing.”
In our case, of course, the “Super-Spectator” is the all-consecrating broadcast media, rather than Hitler. But the worshipfully upward-angled camera, the obsessively repeated slo-mo, the rapt gaze, strangely blended of prurience and prudery, on the athlete's sweaty skin and heaving chest – Riefenstahl wrote the book, and every two years the represented Olympics lovingly re-opens it.
We got a rest in 1980. Let's do it again, and make it permanent. Today, the Olympics – tomorrow, the Super Bowl!
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