Awake from my Olympic coma, I’m seeing this year after not watching with any interest since Montreal’s games of 1976. The US-USSR boycotts of ’80 and ’84 soured me, and by 1988, my Seoul was devoted to incumbent children and the reinforcements on the way. The doping scandals of recent games impairs enjoyable viewing, but we now know the phenomenal, fraudulent records of the East Germans beginning in 1968 were in part a result of a government sponsored, systematic doping of more than 10,000 young German athletes. East Germany is no more, but for many of these former Olympians, health issues linger, including birth defects in their children.
Speaking of children, some of the Chinese gymnasts from the “Women’s” team look more like peers of my 7 year old granddaughter than the 16 year olds they’re purported to be. The distorted pressure etched into the young faces of the US team members was striking; the pressure on them to win immense. While they made some big missteps last night, the protocol of composure was maintained. It seems these girls are trained to shed blood before tears and it makes one wonder about the long term psychological impact of crushing competitive stress at such a young age. The Chinese age debate is not the only question regarding those tumbling, vaulting and balancing. Enrico Casella, the coach of the Italian women’s team, has one about the Americans. “They are so muscular. My gymnasts in Italy aren’t that big. You begin to wonder how they got that way.”
This year, the number of drug tests will increase to 4,500 and the International Olympic Committee expects 30 to 40 positives. Doping is a competition just like other Olympic events, and as testing becomes more sophisticated, cheating advances to deceptively strive for gold. Next on the horizon is “Gene Doping,” as cheaters hope to avoid discovery by altering themselves on a cellular level. The latent effect on these athletes and their offspring as they try to biochemically engineer themselves into legends is unknown, but potentially devolving into a remake of “I Am Legend.”
Why, in 2008, are athletes still cheating? How is it cheaters can celebrate deceitful victory? Sure, some rationalize their con and reap stolen reward. What about those with any functioning conscience? That must be a brutal existence, especially since the IOC now keeps blood samples 8 years for retesting using exams not yet invented. Once caught, the legacy is forever changed. I know former US Olympian Marion Jones is sitting in prison for lying to federal investigators about using steroids, but I have no idea in what events she comp-cheated.
I had originally conceived this post to highlight the stunning performance of American swimmer Jason Lezak in the anchor leg of the Men’s 4×100 freestyle relay. Lezak made up a full body length lead on boastful Frenchman Alain Bernard with the fastest 100-meter split in the history of the games to help the US upset the heavily favored French. Bernard looked like a man who had been tasered as he disbelievingly stared at the scoreboard. It was as if he saw his words from earlier in the day flashing on the huge LCD screen: “The Americans? We’re going to smash them.”