Monday, August 13, 2012

Story Ideas from the Olympics

The Olympics ending yesterday.  Sunday, was the final day of competition.  I've watched the London 2012 games with greater interest than I've had previous games.  Here's what I've gotten out of them.
I am very much the Nationalist.  Now, I've never thought of myself as a "Citizen of the World."  I have not been one of those people who bemoan the coverage of the Olympics, how whichever network had the rights to the games in a given year was only showing the United States athletes, and only those events that we were good at.  But neither have I thought of myself as being particularly nationalistic when it came to things like this.  Sure, I would like to see my fellow citizens win.  But I'm not going to be bothered if they don't.  They are, in essence, professional entertainers, who are probably being well compensated for what they are doing.  
Well, the 2012 games helped me discover my inner flag waver.  With each event, I found myself find the American and willing them to win.  I watched China get the early lead in the medal count and seethed.  I watched our players in the team sports, Basketball, Volleyball (Indoor and Beach) Soccer and Water Polo, march through the early rounds, offering promises of ultimate victory.  Eventually the two Basketball teams, women and men, the women's soccer team and the women's water polo team brought home gold.  Our two women's beach volleyball teams brought home gold and silver.  When I learned that the women's indoor volleyball team lost to Brazil, I turned off the television, too upset to watch the replay of how that happened.  I wanted "us" to win.  
Would it have changed anything had I watched it live?  Would my psychic energy had imparted something to them?  Given them a little extra strength?  That would be an awesome power if one had it.  What if I did have such a power BUT couldn't prove it to anyone?  I would feel my force reaching out through the TV screen to make the ball fly that much faster, to make the Brazilians that much slower, but everyone else would not see anything odd or unnatural, just the play of two top ranked teams.  Hmm...
Athletes are becoming more and more like Race Cars
Oscar Pistorius is the South African runner known as the "Blade Runner."  He's the guy who had his lower legs amputated before he was a year old due to some infection he contracted.  He learned how to walk on prosthetics.  He was able to compete in the Olympics after proving scientifically his prosthetic blades gave him no greater advantage than normal feet and ankles.  They actually return 2% less energy than flesh and bone feet and ankles do when we run.  He reached the semi-finals of the 400 meter dash, but did not qualify for the finals.  He did run a leg of South Africa's 4x400 meter relay team, where they finished 10th.  
When I heard the story about Pistorius, and his efforts to prove that having artificial feet was no advantage, I thought about my Mom.  A couple of years ago she had one of her knees replaced.  She had injured it years ago, and it had deteriorated over time.  It was extremely painful for her to walk.  
Since her replacement surgery, everything is fine.  So much so that she's begun talking to her doctors about getting the other, still healthy knee, replaced.  She thinks that having two fake knees will allow her to walk and move much more smoothly.  
I think Pistorius is the first, earliest example of what Olympic officials will have to face.  Olympic athletes are already tested for performance enhancing drugs to make their muscles bigger and stronger, their heart and lungs bring more oxygen to those muscles and to ease the pain and discomfort they might feel from pushing themselves as hard as they do.  Pistorius was given artificial feet in order to give him a chance at a normal life.  How soon before someone decides to get artificial feet, or replace his or her injury prone knees, in order to get a performance advantage?  Even if the replacement body part were shown to be "normal" in terms of performance characteristics, as the Blade Runner's feet were proven to be, isn't there an advantage to be had in a body part that couldn't feel pain, that could be replaced in a quick procedure rather than half to heal in days or weeks or which could be guaranteed to not fail even if extra force or pressure were put on it.  And if joints can be treated in this way, how about muscle or bone?  
Maybe one day track and field stars will have stickers put on their uniforms and bodies, from the manufacturers of the prosthetic parts that they use.  
In a related thought, I noticed how a number of the participants had opportunities to be the first in their discipline to win a third gold medal in a row.  When I was younger, my impression was that it was rare for an Olympian to appear and be truly competitive two Olympics in a row, let alone three.  The advances in sports medicine, and in training sciences in general, plus the overall professionalization of the sports, allow for longer careers.  How much longer could they participate if the Olympians could upgrade their individual body parts?  
Emotional Moments
The Olympics are filled with emotions.  It's one of the things that make them interesting.  Even the hard to watch moments, the terrible losses and the unexpected accidents have qualities that make it hard to turn away.  
Shin A-lam had one of those moments.  She was the South Korean fencer who lost due to an error by the timing judge watching the clock on her match.  I heard from one report that the judge was a 15 year old girl that was called upon to fill in at the last minute.  An extra second incorrectly added to the clock, plus a slow start, allowed A-lam's opponent to score a point after the match should have been over.  
Shin A-lam's coach protested.  By rule, if you leave the strip or piste you're competing on you are accepting the judges decision.  She had to sit there, on the piste, in front of the other competitors and the entire crowd, crying as she waited for them to rule on the appeal.  When it went against her, security personnel helped her to her feet, still weeping, and escorted her out.  
The hardest moment for me to watch was Morgan Uceny.  She was American's best hope for a medal in the 1,500 meter race.  On one of the last turns, she got tangled up with another runner and fell to the track.  She knelt there, pounding the track in frustration and sobbed.  At the start of the event, NBC played a flashback moment showing Uceny in the World Championships for her event last year.  Just like this time, as she was about to make her move to the front of the pack, someone clipped her ankle with her foot, causing her to fall.  At the World Championship, Uceny got to her feet and finished the race.  She ended up in 10th place  
This time, though, she stayed on her knees, face down, until the race was over.  She then got to her feet, her leg bleeding, and walked into the medical area without talking to reporters.  
The American basketball team won their gold medal as expected, beating Spain in a close contest.  I didn't watch any of the competition except for the gold medal game.  I'm not a basketball fan, and the expectation of an American victory was so great that a loss would have been bigger news that the win. 
After the win, the American players, wealthy stars of the sport, started laughing and hugging each other.  They doused the coach with water from their bottles.  They looked like little boys winning for the first time.  It made me reconsider, somewhat, the notion I had of them being jaded professionals.  Something of the little kids we all were must stay alive inside you when you play a game for a living.  
Other Things
In no particular order, here are a few other things I got out of watching the 2012 games.  
The most attractive athletes come out of the water.  The divers followed by the swimmers have the most ideal physical shapes.  
I now know what a libero is.  
The mountain bike track looked like it was designed to make people fall and go splat on their faces.  I think its amazing that more of them didn't do it.  
Expectation is a real buzz-kill.  There were many instances of someone jumping up and down, getting hugs from their teammates, screaming their heads off after just winning a bronze medal while someone else a few feet away was glum, angry or pounding their fists at getting silver.  
The exception to my attractive athlete opinion above were the Rhythmic Gymnasts.  Not only were the long-limbed, graceful and much more elegant that their way too young cousins, the Athletic Gymnasts, that got all the attention; they could catch bouncing balls with parts of their bodies I didn't think balls could be caught with.  Woah.    
The badminton scandal made me think that the Olympics are something of a reality show.  The only thing missing is the audience being able to cast their votes as to who should be kicked off the island.  Winning would give people immunity.  I don't think the competition would change all that much.  
Here's to the Winter Games in 2014. 


Post a Comment

<< Home