No one wants to openly admit this, but the Olympics are completely antiquated. They’re a fossil like Latin, VCRs, books, Blackberries, and actually conversing with someone without using a computer or cell phone. Thanks to the internet all of the drama that used to surround an event is abolished. I knew about Usain Bolt winning the gold in the 100 meter race at around 2 PM; NBC didn’t air the event until about 10:30 PM later that night … that’s totally unacceptable. As big time sports like football and basketball continue to use technological advances to spruce up the viewing experience (like all different kinds of camera angles, instant replay, rules to increase scoring, digital 1st down lines, and especially fantasy games), the Olympics continue to roll out the same old events, with the same old rules, and the same old post event medal ceremonies. Seriously guys, it’s the year 2012, not 1892. All of the above is true, but what’s also true is that the antiquity of the Olympics makes them extra special.
On July 27th the opening ceremony of the Games of the XXX Olympiad began a tremendous stroll down memory lane. I’m generally nonplussed with the opening ceremony, but it felt different this time watching it with my family. My children were so enamored by the festivities that it literally made me feel like I was missing something by being so cynical. In the next few days my inner child came out as my kids asked if they could watch the Olympics instead of their usual favorite Disney channel. Seeing my kids cheer the exploits of America’s new heroes like Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, and Melisa Franklin made me think of my childhood Olympic memories. As a child I vividly recall jumping and screaming for Carl Lewis, Mary Lou Retton, and Flo Jo. I’ll never forget where I was when the seemingly unbeatable Carl Lewis was obliterated by Canadian Ben Johnson. I imagine this will be the same way my kids feel when they think about Michael Phelps not medaling in an event for the first time in 12 years, Gabby Douglas’ iconic uneven bar routine, or Usain Bolt running a 9.63.
The antiquity of the Olympics actually makes them more sacred in a way. The 100 meter dash will always be a 100 meter dash. In gymnastics a balance beam will always be a balance beam. A backstroke event in swimming will always be the same. Even though everyone loves progression, it’s great that the events are the same so we can compare athletes of different generations. This isn’t the same in other sports anymore. An NBA player averaging 30 points a game is different now than 20 years ago as the referees call fouls if players even breathe on each other. 300 yard passing games in the NFL used to be meaningful. Thanks to all the rule changes, quarterbacks now can pretty much throw for 300 yards using their non dominant arm. When I see an Olympic record broken this year I know the athlete who set the record 30 years ago or whatever was competing under the same conditions as the one who broke the record today and promptly posted it on their Twitter feed. With current advancements in training, equipment, supplements, etc, it’s even more alluring when today’s athletes can’t surpass the time or distance a seemingly inferior athlete notched decades ago. In contrast, seeing a freak of nature like Usain Bolt dominate events like the world has never seen before is breathtaking, especially considering he hails from a very poor country with a population of only about 3 million people.
Baseball is antiquated in a way that’s different than the Olympics. The inability for people to access other things to do 50 or more years ago helped shape baseball into becoming America’s game. The seemingly ubiquitous appearance of the sport and slow pace of the game juxtaposed with America’s instant gratification society (the internet, texting, social media) gives baseball basically no chance to win the common fan. Furthermore, subtle rule changes like instant replay, interleague play, and wild card teams show that baseball is waging a futile attempt to appear up to date, instead of remaining classic like the Olympics. Sorry to break this to baseball fans, but the Olympic Games matter mainly for what they represent. No other sporting event can come close to procuring a global sense of history, family, and patriotism. No other sporting event spits in the face of the culture of instant gratification. When else would we purposely abstain from going online all day in an effort to avoid accidentally finding out the results of a once live competition that has been tape delayed for over 6 hours? And no other sporting event better captures what we appreciate most about sports: the thrill of success and the dedication the athletes put into their craft. Since the games are only ever four years if someone has one bad night, there is no “better luck next year.” After Lebron James’ stink bomb in the playoffs last year most basketball fans still knew it was only a matter of time before he would finally win a ring. Olympic athletes can lose their one and only chance to reap the benefits of a lifetime of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice if they don’t perform their absolute best when the gunshot goes off. Yes the Olympics are incredibly antiquated. They’re antiquated in so many ways, but thank goodness they are and always will be, we’re all so much better for it.