I used to get excited about the quadrennial Olympics, even though I grew up in the Cold War period were the athletes stood as proxies for the world's superpowers and their allies/henchmen. The latter, of course, was dependent on whether we were talking West Germany (cheer for the good guys!) or East Germany (BOO!)
Even then, the Games were rigged, to the extent that the amateur athlete was seldom seen. The Eastern Block, in thrall to the USSR, employed most of their athletes in government jobs. Most of the world followed suit. The Western powers, led by the United States, were slower. Every time the US contemplated allowing athletes to actually make some coin, the world would protest that the spirit of the Olympics would die. Still, the good guys won their fair share of medals and basked in the glow of smug self-satisfaction, knowing they didn't cheat.
We won't note how many boxers were in the US Army in those days. Oh, wait . . . moving on . . .
The seeds of the destruction of the Olympics date to this period. Unable to overcome truth, justice, and the American way by cheating the system, the East Germans made a management decision to cheat the athletes, specifically their own. As cogs to the machinery of the State, the individual athlete was expendable. Modern medicine with its miracle drugs provided exactly the tool to teach the running dogs of capitalism a lesson. (I know, capitalist running dog was more a Chinese thing. Roll with it.)
The East Germans dominated the 1972 event, garnering more medals than any other country without the initials USSR or USA. The secret to their success lay in advanced training programs, the natural superiority of the collective - and a little blue pill, containing testosterone. That the anabolic steroid would create enormous health problems (that persist to this day) for the athletes was irrelevant. The goal was to win medals, and at any cost.
The Chinese, as always, like to steal a good thing. Treating PED-use like a Louis Vuitton handbag, they entered a team of distance runners into the World Championships in 1993, winning six of nine possible medals. A month later, they demolished world records. Wang Junxia still holds the top spot in the 10K record book, 23 years later.
Doping, not nationalism, not professionalism, is the slayer of the Olympics. I'll grant you greed plays its part, as well, but we'd still tune into the Olympics to watch world-class athletes if we knew they were clean.
In the last two years, the scandals involving PED use in the running ranks has exploded across the news. With the advent of new testing procedures, the authorities are finding more athletes dirty and recalling medals by the bucket-load. The latest are the 23 culled from the 2008 Olympics.
Now comes news that, despite the total absence of ethics displayed by the Russians, they're going to participate in Rio. The gutless IOC (and I'm being kind) punted on banning Russia, opting instead to pawn off that responsibility to the individual sports federations. The federations will blink and look the other way, exactly as they have been doing for the last four decades.
Knowing, as we now do, that many, and maybe most, of them are doping diminishes my admiration for their talent and their hard work. I have a simply policy; I don't cheer for cheaters.
Two weeks after the Olympics, our junior high school cross country season will start. I'm guaranteed to have one kid chase the geese and fall in the river, at least one 6th-grade boy make an inappropriate comment that will get him clobbered by a girl, and enough goofiness to recharge my sense of humor for a year.
None of these kids is likely to ever set a world record, but they'll run their guts out whether they finish first, or fifteenth, or fiftieth, and do it the old-fashioned way, with hard work, sacrifice, and pain.
Them I can - and will - cheer for, enthusiastically, each and every one, regardless of where they finish.