Behind the Curtain

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Image Source: University of East LondonCoverage of the Olympics quite obviously focuses on the venues, with an occasional glimpse of the hermetically sealed Olympic village. But there are many other people and places at work in these and other Olympics. The USOC, for instance, at each Olympics establishes its own on-the-scene training center. For these Olympics, it is at the University of East London, and was established through some enterprising work by the USOC in connection with the University and USOC sponsors. It provides a place for athletes to train, eat, receive medical treatment, and all of the other things that athletes do, away from the spotlight and with the individual athlete’s usual support group as well as USOC resources. It’s a large effort, but one much appreciated by athletes looking for minimal disruption of their daily routines and a discrete place to train. The U.S. men’s basketball team (and someone will have to tell me if we call every men’s Olympic basketball team a dream team or if that is reserved for the 1992 team – it’s a bit unclear to me) was not practicing today, but other sports were. And those sports are what make an Olympics. Seeing the athletes behind the scenes was an inspiring experience. For instance, the taekwondo team was training (including the Lopez siblings), and it was mighty impressive. The balance, the stamina, the precision, the flexibility, and the dedication of these 2 men and 2 women reinforces that this is an unforgiving sport, with any weakness liable to be exploited in a painful way.

If there is anything that the first 5 days of these Olympics has shown, it’s that nothing can be taken for granted and nothing is given. Everything has to be earned. Phelps is not invincible, as shown by the fact that he didn’t medal in the 400 IM that he won in Beijing. Federer drops a set on grass at Wimbledon to a low ranked opponent. Jordyn Wieber, the reigning world champion, doesn’t qualify for the women’s all-around final. The power of the Olympics can be imposing. The first few days of these Oympics should make us all appreciate Michael Phelps’s accomplishments in Beijing all the more.

On the flip side, the badminton players who tanked matches were justifiably booted from the competition. What an insult to sport, to the Olympics, and to the people who paid money to see athletes give it their all. These people didn’t even make it look good. They blatantly shanked shots into the net. Abysmal.

Moving back to the positive, despite forecasts each day for heavy showers, the weather is holding up. Also holding up is Boris Johnson, the irrepressible Mayor of London. I love this guy. All politics aside, this guy has a genuine connection to the people he serves, and he embraces the Olympics and brings his constituents along in the embrace. He fosters the good will that the Games bring, appreciates the work that so many volunteers have to put in, and does not turn a blind eye to problems, which included a visit to the spartan facility housing the 3000 soldiers recalled from Afghanistan for security purposes. Johnson’s political stock is soring, and he is enjoying himself at the same time – a rare feat in his chosen field.

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