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Are We Looking Forward to the Olympics?

I knew that it was going to start soon, but I did not realize that it was July 23, less than two weeks away. I usually enjoy the Olympics, as I like sports and competition. And almost always at the Olympics, there are some incredible feats; world records broken, someone becoming one of the great legends by winning multiple gold medals. And there is a great variety of sports, from swimming to gymnastics to bicycling, to the sprint races and the marathons.

After Joe Biden was elected President, I started looking forward to the Olympics again, as I would never have been able to watch Trump strut around like the various other totalitarians in history who have basked in the reflected glory of their country’s athletic efforts. And while of course no one would ever have wanted any bit of this horrible pandemic the world has been facing, at least I was glad that Trump didn’t have the opportunity to try to take political advantage of the 2020 Games, because they were postponed until 2021. So I hoped that we could have them this year, and it would be nice to take a bit of a break from all the worries of the world.

But at this point, I think that I would rather have the Games postponed again, or even canceled. Japan’s government has recently declared a state of emergency, as a result of a worrisome increase in Covid cases. They recently decided to ban all spectators from the games. That is likely necessary, but what is an athletic competition without fans there? Yes, I know, we did it here last season in baseball, and that was unnerving, seeing all those cardboard cutout figures in the stands. But it was good to see some baseball, and everyone seemed to get through it pretty well. But what would a swimming race or gymnastics event be like, with the only cheering being that of the few teammates nearby?

I wonder if the lack of spectators will lead to slower times in racing events of any type? I would think that hearing the fans cheering and exhorting, even if it divided among various competitors, would increase the adrenaline, and spur them to greater achievements. But some think that it might actually improve the athletes’ focus to not be distracted by the crowd, and it might be more like their workouts, where they can just concentrate on what they are doing. I still predict some lower times overall, at least in the track events, so we will see.

From the point of view of a spectator watching on television, it would feel strange to watch all these events with no crowd noise, no chants, even the favoritism for the athletes from the host country. It would seem more like watching tryouts, not the apex of competition.

It seems from various polling, that a majority of the citizens of Japan would prefer to at least have the Games postponed again. But there has been a very large outlay of capital to prepare for the Games, and it may be that Japan and the International Olympic Committee believe that it would be financially disastrous to postpone or cancel them. Japan has spent what they estimate as $15.4 billion to prepare for the Olympics and Paralympic Games, but audits put the costs higher; and there has been an estimated outlay of another $3 billion by private firms.

We know that the country which hosts the games tries to make it a showcase to the world, as well as stoke the patriotism and even political support of its citizens. Former Prime Minister Abe had said that the planned 2020 Olympics were to be a statement of renewal by Japan. New Prime Minister Suga has insisted that they proceed this year. His popularity is somewhat at stake; and there is also the fact that the 2022 Winter Games are scheduled for Beijing, which probably makes it more important for Japan not to want to be outshone by China

It doesn’t seem likely that the Olympics will not go forward at this point, but there is no way that the concerns are going to disappear, or that the competition will be so thrilling that it will turn into a triumph. Japan had recently said that no fans from other countries could enter the sites as spectators, but that a limited amount of native citizens could. But now they have banned all spectators. Of course the influx of tourists and spectators from other countries is a significant part of the financial windfall, but that will almost all be gone; why would anyone fly to Tokyo at this point?

I’m wondering what the TV ratings will be like in America. It is an obvious point, but I’ll still make it: it seems as if these Games will be more in the nature of a chore that has to be gotten through. Anything accomplished on the stadiums or pools of competition will be overshadowed by the great concern that the virus may spread not only in Tokyo, but other countries. If they just canceled the Games entirely, that would not bother me. But then, I am not looking forward to the 2028 games, scheduled for Los Angeles. I remember the 1984 Games here, which were of course marred by Russia’s boycott as answer to the United State’s boycott in 1980 of the Games held in Moscow.

What I mostly remember is all the traffic, various prices going up. I didn’t go to any of the events, but I was going to graduate school, and probably did not want to spend any sums trying to get tickets. I was relieved when it was over, though I suppose that was not a very enthusiastic approach. I do remember Peter Ueberroth, and how one of our major national weekly magazines opined that his being the chairman of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, might catapult him into Presidential contention, along with Lee Iacocca, who was the heralded business person du jour. Fortunately, the idea of “We need a top businessman to run America,” did not catch on then as predicted. Would that it never had.

The athlete I am most looking forward to watching and rooting for, is Katie Ledecky, the American swimmer who has so far won five Olympic Gold Medals, and was so amazing in the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. The athletes I will most miss seeing, though the last Olympics they competed as a two-person team together was in 2012, are the women’s volleyball players Misty May-Treanor and Keri Walsh Jennings. Their battling back to win the gold medal was the highlight of those Games for me. As a boy, I most enjoyed the track events, but now I prefer the swimming, diving, and volleyball. I also enjoyed the early bicycling events, mostly because of the charming and amusing team of British announcers who covered it. I wonder if they are back.