The Armchair Olympian

The last month or so has seen my productivity decrease to a new low. Which is saying something because it took me 17 months to redo my basement bathroom. Frankly the TV has been on even as I sleep sometimes. And the reason? The Olympic games. Fourty years ago during my first major in University, Phys Ed., I took an Olympic history class. Not the Ancient games, although we did touch on them but the history of the modern games. The brainchild of Le Baron Pierre de Coubertin. I have to say that was one class I never missed. I was enchanted by the story of the modern games from the moment the Professor spoke her first words in class. She had written her doctoral dissertation on the modern Olympics and spent time researching her subject while living temporarily in Lausanne Switzerland. Lausanne is the home of the IOC, the International Olympic Committee. I fell in love with this instructor and her subject. My regular study technique of memorization was thrown out the window for this class. I was transfixed and I eagerly devoured every word as we were transported through the years from the idea of one man up to 1981 Calgary, Alberta. Almost 100 years in the making. There are some misunderstandings as there always were. The games were a process and continue to be so.

Coubertin was a privileged youth educated in his homeland, France. His fascination with Education led him to England where he became interested in the British love of sport. It may be that he felt sport was what truly gave England an advantage over the French in their education styles. Students were healthy, robust, more well rounded. These all led to a stronger people and therefore a more robust country. His ideas of furthering sport in education in France would not be embraced if he pointed out the positive attributes in England. After all, the French English rivalry was strong. The French would never embrace anything that the English were doing. Coubertin was also interested in the Ancient civilizations. Should the Ancient games be revived, international competition would mean Countries would need to promote sport at younger ages in order to develop superior athletes. France would have to embrace physical education to compete on a world stage. While Great Britain continues to dominate over France in the Summer Olympics, France has shown superiority in medal count for the Winter games. Might have something to do with mountains in their backyard. Olympic “purists” would say that the winter games aren’t really Olympic as Ancient Greece certainly didn’t have any winter sports. But to them I say, on behalf of all indignant Canadians, thy didn’t have Beach Volleyball or skateboarding either. So there!

First let me say an Olympiad is a period of four years. It is not a day or a week or a month. The Olympic games are held once per Olympiad. Well, twice really since they added the winter games. The anthem was written for the 1896 games in Athens but wasn’t officially adopted until 1958. It is played as the Olympic flag is raised and subsequently lowered. The Flag is a white background with five rings. Coubertin created the original design. The five rings intersect signifying unity and the colours (blue, black and red on top with yellow and green on the bottom) along with the white background represent colours that appear at least once on every flag that participates. The five rings also represent the five continents on which the games are held. Over time hosting countries feature their own anthem, mascots and variations on tradition. There is an olympic motto, athletes pledge, torch run, lighting of the cauldron, medals. The games are steeped in tradition and yet hey are ever changing and evolving as our world continues to change and evolve.

The first games were held in Athens because… well it just made sense. The next games went to France because of course Le Baron De Coubertin was French. So far this all is a no brainer. In 1904 it was decided the games should cross the pond to the new world and so they were held in St. Louis. Naturally it was harder for athletes to attend so basically it was just a great big American athletic competition with a few other countries attending. Every games seems to have some memorable moment that defines it. This year it was the Pandemic. 1908 saw the inclusion of figure skating in London since it could be done indoors. Stockholm used electronic timing for the first time in 1912. Berlin in 1916 as cancelled due to WW1. Ironic since the Ancient games sent out a message of Ekecheiria. A temporary truce between warring factions that enabled athletes to pass by unharmed. Didn’t always happen. 1920, back in France saw the introduction of Hockey to the games. Finally in 1924 in addition to the Summer games in Paris, France held its own Winter sporting event. It was retroactively called the Olympic Winter Games. That was the year the Olympic motto was introduced. Citius, Altius , Fortius. Meaning Faster, Higher, Stronger. In 1928 St. Moritz, Sonja Henie became the youngest Olympic champion at the age of fifteen. A record that wasn’t broken until 29 years after her death. Alas, as is often the case, a wealthy privileged background meant no cost was spared in her development. 1904 was the first year they awarded gold, silver and bronze medals. The Ancient Olympic winners were awarded Olive wreath crowns while winners in the Pythian games wore Laurel wreaths. The saying “don’t rest on your laurels” stems from that wreath. It means don’t be content with past accomplishments. It is over. And FYI, cheaters in the Ancient games were fined and the money was used to construct a statue of Zeus with the cheaters name, his fathers name and his hometown inscribed for all to bear witness to his shame. They still stand today. That is one hell of a punishment.

1932 had the first podium constructed to honour the winners in Lake Placid. 1932 saw both winter and summer games in the United States but at the peak of the depression attendance was down for athletes and fans. LA did have the first Athletes village though. !936 was interesting what with Hitler running Germany. He did his best to show up the Americans. It was also the first televised games. It was rumoured that the mighty Jesse Owens, winner of four gold medals, was snubbed by Hitler but Mr. Owens himself dispelled that myth. He did however say his own President didn’t acknowledge his accomplishments. 1940 had Japan awarded both games but they were later rescinded as the Japanese were wreaking havoc at the time. Eventually as the second world war expanded, the games were cancelled altogether. 1944 also saw the cancellation due to the war. !948 saw a meagre return to the games in London as there wasn’t much money to go full out. 1948 also saw the first of many political defections. A Czechoslovakian woman who refused to go home. Germany and Japan were not invited to the Winter games that year. 1952 saw the first hockey competition with artificial ice. 1956 was funny. Australia has a different summer so the summer games were held in what we would consider winter. Lots of boycotts due to a variety of squabbles. The Russians kicked butt in their first winter games. I bet you can guess why. 1960 saw Rome finally host after they were forced to decline in 1908. Volcano eruptions can put a damper on the games. The winter games venue in Squaw Valley were the first and only time bob sled wasn’t run. Too expensive was the official word. 1964 saw everyone forgive Japan and allow them to host but South Africa wasn’t invited due to apartheid. That lasted for many years. The 1964 winter games were awarded to Austria and not my beloved Calgary. It was so warm that year they had to truck snow. Haha. Oh yeah. That happened to us in 1988 didn’t it? 1968 saw the first mascot in France while high jump in Mexico city was to see a dramatic change with the introduction of the fosbury flop. It helped me win first place in my grade nine County finals. 1972 was the massacre of 11 members of the Israeli Team and a German police officer. It did not go unpunished by Golda Meir. Don’t mess with the Mossad. To this day, the victims at Munich are remembered. Truly the most heinous and cowardly acts.

The 1976 Summer games were in Montreal. Yeah Canada! The claim to fame that year was they were the most over budget games in history. Before and since. All due to one man. A union leader. But it was kinda cool that Queen Elizabeth opened the games. Probably the cool thing for her was when her daughter Anne came in as part of the British team. Innsbruck held the winter games that year. It was the first time in the winter games that a medal was stripped from an athlete. If you guessed a Russian, well Duh! !980 saw the winter games back in Lake Placid with artificial snow making its first Olympic appearance. The 1980 summer games in Moscow were boycotted by pretty much everyone. So the Russians won a ton of medals. Politics right? The Soviets and their peeps retaliated in 1984 when they boycotted Los Angeles. L.A. ran a tight ship monetarily and didn’t bankrupt the country. Quite a coup actually. But the funny thing in Sarajevo at the 1984 winter games? They raised the Olympic flag upside down. Ooops… In 1988 I was big pregnant at the Winter games in Calgary. I sent away for a ton of tickets and I was given all of them. It was so exciting for us as a family. The real story wasn’t my pregnancy though. That was the year Jamaica decided to send a bobsled team. Jamaica. In the Caribbean. Sun. Sand. No snow. Seoul, South Korea held the summer games that year. In an effort to clean the streets, massive amounts of homeless were locked away. A truly sad outcome for a winning country. Appearances are important I guess. 1992 was the last year the Olympics, both winter and summer were held in the same year. It was a big year. No boycotts. And finally, after the wall fell, a newly reunited Germany sent one team. South Africa was finally invited after Mandela was released from prison and the country finally saw the light. Former soviet countries sent a combined team and kicked butt. It was a coup for freed people everywhere. But coolest lighting of the flame was in Barcelona that year. A flaming arrow shot a distance of over 200 feet by a lone archer. Nothing can ever compete with that.

Anyways, in 1994 the winter games went ahead in Lillehammer. The year of the “Tonya Harding” debacle, Qualifying rules were also changed that year which kept people like Eddy the eagle from getting in. Unfortunately, it is based on international points so often those unable to financially attend international events are often beat out by less talented people with wealthy benefactors. But that is timeless I guess. There was a time when only amateurs were allowed but the late 1980’s changed that. People felt professionals had an unfair advantage, which is true. Amateur status is an ideal that is impossible to uphold in a world that is more and more enamoured with “the best”. Plus cheaters just win so often. !996 brought the summer games to the American south. Atlanta. It was 100 years since the inception of the modern games and many felt it should go once again to Athens. There were also many who felt the history of the south wasn’t really in keeping with the sentiment of the games. In the end, Atlanta won the bid and they hit it out of the park. Not only did it rake in the money, it provided the area with lasting benefits to the community. Huge success. Of course someone had to be a loser and a bomb was planted. Two people died but the quick actions of a security guard kept the tragedy from being even greater. In Nagano the 1998 winter games brought about huge transformations to the country. The big story for Canadians that year was the introduction of snowboarding. Our own Ross Rebagliati won gold in the men’s giant slalom only to later have it taken away when he tested positive for marijuana. It was later returned as marijuana was not on the banned substance list. Besides, don’t all snowboarders smoke marijuana? 2002 saw the summer games return down under to Sydney. They beat out Beijing which caused a lot of anger. As usual, the Americans were blamed for interfering. Maybe some human rights issues came into it? Tiananmen Square anyone? The Olympic flag was flown at half mast due to the death of IOC President Samaranch’s wife. 2004 finally went back to Athens and they made a dramatic change to the front of the medals. The Roman Colosseum design had been used since 1928 so the Greeks changed it to a picture of the Panathenaic stadium in Athens. Makes sense to me! Turin, Italy hosted the winter games of 2006. The biggest scandal was blood doping. Six Austrians were banned for life just for possessing doping substances and being involved. Punishment without positive tests sent quite a message. When Beijing finally got to host in 2008 the controversies were too many to mention. The coolest thing was a South African swimmer whose leg was amputated at the knee, qualified for the Beijing games after she medalled huge at the 2004 Paralympics . As well, a Polish table tennis player missing her right forearm also qualified. You’ve got to admit that is huge.

Back to Canada in 2010 Vancouver saw the exclusion of women’s ski jumping going to the British Columbian supreme court only to be shot down. Apparently we aren’t as inclusive as we thought. Vancouver also saw Ice Hockey (or Hockey as it is called in Canada), played on NHL sized rinks which are smaller than Olympic sized ice. Advantage North America maybe? Well men and women’s gold both went to Canada with both silvers going to the U.S. So… The Finns took both bronze. Back to London in 2012 Queen Elizabeth once again opens the games. Sometimes, regardless of costs or outdoing prior games, simple decisions leave a lasting impression. The theme song from the movie “Chariots of Fire was played during the opening ceremony. Based on the journey to the 1924 Olympic games by two British athletes, the music puts a grip in my heart and a lump in my throat. Where better to have it played. In 2014 the winter games went to Sochi Russia (not the Soviet Union) where doping was once again the name of the games. Get it? And the torch went to space for the first time. They are running out of unique relay options on earth I guess. Anyways, in 2016 the games finally went to South America. Rio de Janeiro. You know they speak Portugese there? The IOC recognized a Refugee team of ten athletes who were unable to compete under their own country flags. The Zika virus freaked out the world prior to the games but in the end it was a non issue and athletes and fans alike escaped unscathed. 2018 saw the games back in South Korea. Pyeongchang. This was the third winter games in an Asian Country. I must admit my ignorance in Geography, the world, and pretty much all things Asian obviously as I thought Asian countries were warm. What a moron. I need to read more. That being said, this will blow your mind. They spent 100 million dollars building a stadium for use in the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics and Paralympics. Then tore it down. Hmm. I have no words!

And finally the 2020 games that were awarded to Tokyo. The reason for my lack of sleep from late July through to early September. For the first time in the history of the modern games, they were not held in the same year of the named year. Events have been held outside the regular timeframe before. Australia for example. But never a different year. This was huge. The world has been held hostage by a virus for so long. As usual, this virus caused everyone to have an opinion. Should the games go ahead? Postponed? Cancelled? Probably also for the first time in history, an Olympic games was plagued with so many controversies and obstacles that they covered all bases. Pretty much every country the world over had some sort of criticism. Not just the virus. For everything. The world had gone crazy and it was getting worse. For awhile it seemed like it was all for naught. The years of preparation. The incredible amount of money spent which would never be recouped. The athletes who may never have this chance to compete again. But Japan didn’t listen. They pushed ahead. The monetary loss would be huge. No spectators meant no ticket sales. No spillover to the economy from the travel and entertainment industry. But, the costs were sunk so… on with the games. The monetary loss from cancelling would be massive. But what about the people? The health risks? The backlash and criticism from the world didn’t stop Japan. As the games progressed, the world views changed and in time positivity came through. For you and I, it really didn’t matter. I for one would have had more sleep through the summer. For well over 15,000 athletes this is was their reason for living the past five years. The sacrifices from the athletes and their families, friends and communities all led to these games. And for some 4,000 plus participants, their small medal was the ultimate reward. In a time when the world needs us to come together, Japan brought us together if only for a few weeks.

Citius, Altius, Fortius. Faster, Higher, Stronger. The Olympic Motto. Unchanged since 1894. Tradition. Well, as you have seen, the Olympics are ever changing and always adapting. The International Olympic Committee recognized this as they added one word to the motto. Communiter. And so from this point onward the modern motto will be Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together.

I have learned a lot about my fellow man in the last couple of years. The most important lesson I have learned is that negativity doesn’t help us. We are in this together whether we like it or not. Do you want anger and judgement to rule your emotions? Or love, compassion and empathy. One of these can destroy your health, your relationships and your mental well being. The other… won’t. Chose wisely…

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