Ah, the Olympics. There's nothing like spending a few weeks of summer rooting for your country in the biggest competition in the world. Even before I started running in high school, I would fervently follow statistics and results to see how the US was doing, and what we needed to do to win. I think that the track events are the best, but there's a sport for everyone to enjoy. There's swimming, wrestling, cycling, beach volleyball, handball, badminton, table tennis -- wait, what?! Hang on a second; some of those sports aren't even well-known outside of the Olympics. Is this the vision that the ancient Greeks had during the original Games thousands of years ago?
If you look the events that go back to the ancient Olympic Games from around 700 BCE -- like the track and field events and the boxing and wrestling events -- you'll find that they all represent basic human abilities. Since the beginning of our existence, we've needed to run, jump, throw and fight in order to survive. (I'd also like to add swimming into this category, even though it was not done during the original Games). These events honor those humans who are either gifted enough, or work hard enough to be the most fit in the world.
There's something primal about these events; something that connects us to our ancestors from hundreds of generations ago. When I run, I know that my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather did the same. It's not like skiing, which can only be done by those who live in the right climate or those wealthy enough. Running, jumping, simple throws, fighting, and swimming are things that we all share. They're part of what unites us as people.
However, the flipside to this argument is that sports like basketball involve those primal, instinctive abilities in conjunction with one another. To top it off, they involve more teamwork, too. And honestly, I agree with all that. I think that in the past, sports like that have had deserving places in the Olympic games. However, my criticism can be pointed at one word: professionals.
Traditionally, Olympic sports like baseball (no longer an Olympic sport, I know), basketball, tennis, and soccer were places where amateurs could really shine. The USA team would typically send college kids for most of those events. However, more and more countries began sending their professional players to the Games in order to increase their odds of winning gold. Now, when I turn on the Olympics, I think that I'm seeing reruns of Euro 2012, Wimbledon and the NBA All Star Game. To top it off, the fact that these big-name players don't even stay in the Olympic Village, and stay in fancy hotels instead, really ruins the communal and simple spirit of the games.
That's not to say that I hate the modern Games. Quite the contrary, I can't get enough of them. The ancient Greeks used the Olympic games as an alternative to war and politics, and it's very similar nowadays. Now, North Korea and South Korea are fighting intensely, but no one's dying, and the worst-case scenario involves only getting a few medals. How great and productive is that? Instead of the world actually going to war with China, they're simply competing to beat their behemoth athletics program.
So watch the events and wear your country's colors if only for national pride, even if you're not interested in the sports. And if you are... How pumped are you for this years epic 100m final?!