More than ever, I’m really liking the idea that the summer Olympic Games occur in the same calendar year as U.S. presidential elections. Thank you, gymnasts, swimmers and Usain Bolt.
And thank you Team America for providing a sense of patriotic escape. For representing what is best about us–from goal orientation and work ethic to competitive spirit and classy deportment. Nary a mention of needing to “Make America Great Again.”
Imagine, a “USA, USA” chant for Olympic success and national pride–not as a partisan, political put-down. What a concept.
* Baseball (along with softball) will be back in the Olympics at the 2020 Tokyo Games. It will be a six-team tournament. I say why bother? The Olympics should represent the ultimate competition and achievement in a given sport–such as gymnastics, swimming, track and field, wrestling or field hockey. That would eliminate baseball, which has its World Series; soccer, which has its World Cup; basketball, which has its NBA championship; and golf and tennis, which have their four majors.
* BTW, the U.S. women’s softball team will be coached by USF’s Ken Eriksen.
* If you’re going to have ping pong (sorry, table tennis), why not shuffleboard, billiards and darts too? Imagine the niche crowd that would draw.
* Shooting sports have been part of the Olympics since the Games’ rebirth in 1896. But do we really need nine events–from air pistol, rapid-fire pistol and rifle prone to skeet and trap?
* Whether it’s archery, water polo or fencing, whether NBC pays attention or not, there is something admirably authentic about the participants. This is true love of a sport and quintessential competition–without marketing-bonanza opportunities. There is no cashing in when you have a real job to return to after your team handball Olympiad experience.
* African Americans obviously are–and have long been–an integral part of the U.S. Olympic team, only now it’s much more than basketball and track and field. It prominently includes swimming (gold medalist Simone Manuel) and gymnastics ( gold medalists Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas). And the Olympics themselves, of course, are a picture of diversity and inclusiveness.
But let’s go back to the era of Jesse Owens, America’s uber iconic Olympian. The African-American sprinter won four gold medals (a record even Bolt will never surpass) at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. No newspaper south of the Mason-Dixon line would deign to publish a picture of him. No, this isn’t “post-racial America,” but imagine that sort of embedded racism.
* For myriad reasons, these are arguably the worst of times for Puerto Rico. But some semblance of solace has come from the Olympics. Monica Puig, 22, won Puerto Rico’s first gold medal in any Olympic sport with her crowning achievement in tennis. While some might have conceded gold to Serena Williams or other highly-ranked champions of the Wimbledon-U.S.-Australian-French Open circuit, Puig, a Miami resident ranked 34th in the world, was the last one standing.
* The Olympic Village is 32 high-rise apartment buildings housing 200 delegations and approximately 18,000 athletes, coaches and officials. Virtually every one has flags and banners hanging from balconies and walls displaying national identity and pride. The U.S. building is an exception. It has no identifying markings–to reduce security risks. It’s the world we live in. Equally unadorned is the building housing Israel, which suffered a horrific terrorist siege at the 1972 Munich Games.
* While the Olympics are all about competition, there is also a sense of global mingling among athletes from diverse geographic and cultural backgrounds. That has been virtually non-existent for American basketball players. The wealthy, high-profile players have not been housed at the Village, where you would find, say, Biles, Bolt, Michael Phelps or Novak Djokovic. The hoopsters are staying on a luxury cruise ship, the Sea Cloud.
It’s meant to be as stand-offish as it looks, and U.S. Olympic officials are on board with it.
“Our players are probably the most recognizable athletes in the world,” explains Jerry Colangelo, the director of U.S.A. Basketball. “…We have to protect them. They’re very valuable assets.”