Donaldus. We went to Olympia. It was not high on my list of things I wish to see in Greece, but it was on the road to Pylos (Homer’s Nestor), and the road we took across the mountains was breathtaking, frightening, whimsical, and amazingly slow. We paid our 12 Euros and spent 90 minutes wandering about the birthplace of the Olympics.
We will watch some of the Olympics this summer, but I don’t find them very interesting anymore. The professionalization of “amateur” sports takes most of the nobility out of the games. Who wants to see the ten best American basketball players playing against the team from Sweden? Commercialism, intense nationalism, the obscene media hype, the metamorphosis of lithe amateurs into gymnastic or wrestling machines, the doping scandals, the preference for performance over character-building–all these things make the Olympics a little nauseating to me. I hate the way American television features only Americans in competition, and I just have to walk away from the smarmy seven-minute profiles showing the heroic diversity of America’s athletes. “She grew upone of twelve children to a single mother in Detroit…”
And, as we move towards the games, the death of Muhammad Ali, who won the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics. He was still Cassius Clay then.
Last night we watched a biopic about Lance Armstrong. My friend Melanie (the famous triathlete) would insist that he is not representative of modern competitive sport, and I’m sure she’s right (as always), but he represents something dark that swirls around cycling, football, baseball, and a range of other sports. When the will to win becomes the sole drive, rather than the grace and loveliness of sport, and you back that will to win with nationalism and big money, corruption is sure to follow. What percentage of this year’s Olympians (worldwide) have engaged in unethical or illegal activity in their nutrition programs, or their support teams? If there were a way to “test positive” for betraying the amateur ideal, the bell would never stop ringing.
Meanwhile, we watched Concussion (with Will Smith) on our journey back from Greece. In my view, it’s his best performance ever. The film just fills you with akind of numb rage for the ways in which capitalism has destroyed sports. By now, nothing really surprises us. The NFL is harder on those who torture animals than those who beat their girlfriends, wives, and children. The NFL systematically covered up the concussion crisis, continues to do so, because in the end we as a culture don’t really mind crippling our elite athletes in the name of big-money entertainment. Take the violence out of football and what’s left? Professional flag football would soon slip out of the nation’s consciousness. It is only a matter of time, brief time, before we watch the first live on-the-field death. But the game will not be suspended, no matter what Bob Costas says in his commentary.
And then there is Olympia in the Peloponnese, serene in its ruins, more Minoan than East German in its ethos, where the human form was worshipped for its inherent grace and poetry, and where true sportsmanship lifted running, boxing, and spear-chucking above human sordidness.
We wanted to see the flame. The weather was perfect.