Wednesday, July 18, 2012

London: Enter The Athletes, Please!

Albertville '92 Opening
Shocked, shocked once the startling revelations surrounding the security, or, more precisely, lack of it, as the London Olympiad approaches* (Quick: does anyone know the actual opening day? Thought not.). British pols love to bask in the klieg lights as they pummel hapless bankers, regulators, and now security firm execs. Like our own Congress-persons, MP's never miss a chance to have someone make even them look competent by comparison.

While that particular circus plays out, we also read of American and Australian athletes being held captive without food or drink for over four hours. No, not due to a security problem, but by a confused bus driver experiencing his first day on the job in a city with which he lacked familiarity: London.

If that seems far fetched to you, it should not. I vividly recall the early days of the Olympics around Albertville, France, when our group tried to travel by hired bus from Courcheval to Meribel. As the crow flies or skiers ski, this would have been about 6km, but as the bus lurched to and fro on steep, icy Alpine hills, it became perhaps four times as long. The driver took one wrong turn after another, and then needed to back down the steep inclines and somehow make hairpin turns with that fifty-foot long toboggan on wheels. In reverse.

Barcelona '92
Our driver was indeed French, but, as I recall, he was from Bordeaux. It was his first day driving in the Savoie. Thereafter, I kept to one of the group's rented Renault Espaces, for which I had little competition, since it had a standard shift on the column, and nobody had bothered to ask our "guides" if they knew how to drive one. They did not.

Anyone familiar with how the Olympics are organized, financed, operated, and then quickly abandoned can tell you that the stories coming out of London are average stuff. Boosters from Salt Lake City to Athens get the bright idea that the Games could be a boon to the local economy; unsuspecting citizens think it's a far-fetched idea and pay little attention; soon, politicians, boosters and unions see the possibilities of big payoffs; by some miracle and more "favors" somehow the effort wins Olympic Committee approval; the banks with no skin in the Games line-up to organize the debt load.

Then, the fun begins until the bill comes due for taxpayers. Oh well.

Atlanta '96, Ali
I travelled to Barcelona in the spring of 1991, more than a year before the Olympics would open there. Catalonians were chuckling about the prospects for finishing all the work and falling down with laughter at the thought of keeping to budget. Somehow (bribes and quadruple overtime) they got it done. Same in Atlanta and Salt Lake City (purportedly, Mitt came to the rescue). Sydney might be the exception; that city ran the finest games by far in my experience.

What about Athens? Are you kidding? Holy Moussaka!

But don't lose heart; all of this junk fades into the background when the athletes from all the nations march into he stadiums for the Opening Ceremonies; and a small jeune fille rises up from the ground on a pedestal, higher and higher singing La Marseillaise; the archer shoots his flaming arrow to light the torch; the aged and shaking gold medal winning boxer climbs the many steps to do the same.

Anyone who has been there** will tell you, these are some of the finest human moments you will ever experience. Trust me, every one is thinking: damn the cost and corruption.

And we must keep in mind that journalists are the natural enemies of the Olympic machine, which is so inherently dependent on the co-conspiring machines of politics and finance. It is the media's job to point out everyone's shortcomings (except its own), especially politicians, financiers, and giddy local boosters.

Opening Ceremony Box, Sydney '00
But, even they cannot diminish the athletes' finest moments, or even their most tragic ones. Both remind us of just how wonderful we can be, alone and together, and just how vulnerable even the fastest, strongest, bravest of us might be in the wrong moment.

The sooner the athletes enter and silence everyone else, the better for all of us.

* Friday, July 27

** The author attended Opening Ceremonies at Albertville & Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996, and Sydney in 2000.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Ahhh, the memories!