Thursday, September 5, 2013

How Things Have Changed since '84 and Stayed The Same

I was lent a copy of a Sports Illustrated Special Preview of the 1984 Olympics. I initially was just excited to see an Olympics publication, just curious to see who was predicted to win and which athletes they featured in the massive 540 page magazine. The price was $3.95. How much would that be today? A regular Sports Illustrated magazine in 1984 was $1.75. I know this because I was also recently given from someone else who was cleaning out his father's basement, Sports Illustrated editions from 1979, 1984 and a preview of the Calgary Olympics in 1988. It's fascinating to look back at the media coverage of past Olympics.

As I started to read the 1984 preview magazine though it became clear that as much as things have changed, things have stayed the same.

Gone are the cigarette advertisements but the beer and car advertisements remain. Technology has changed as can be seen with this advertisement for a video camera with a VHS cassette included. While another video camera boasts of being revolutionary lightweight only weighing 2.2 pounds! Incredible to see how technology has changed since then. There were also film camera advertisements that would be replaced now with digital cameras.

The athletes have changed of course, but not the sports. Carl Lewis has been replaced with Usain Bolt in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. Decathlete Ashton Eaton has replaced Daley Thompson. Gabby Douglas was the gymnastics sweetheart in 2012 whereas Mary-Lou Retton was the sweetheart in 1984. No one replaced Greg Louganis who won double gold in 3m springboard and 10m platform in 1984 and 1988 after winning silver in 1976 and forced to sit out with the boycott in 1980.

There was even an article about promising Canadian boxers Shawn O'Sullivan and Willie deWit. Canada had not won Olympic gold in boxing since 1932. Sports Illustrated was predicting that this would change in 1984. O'Sullivan and deWit both won silver although controversy surrounded O'Sullivan's loss with many (including his opponent's coach) believing O'Sullivan had won the match. Canada would wait until 1988 for the next gold in boxing when Lennox Lewis would win. In 2012, women's boxing made its debut. Canada wouldn't win boxing medals, but wrestling and judo ones.

The boxing article was spread over 12 pages, perhaps something that has changed. Does a 2013 audience read a 12 page story in a magazine? In Sportsnet Magazine's Special Collectors Edition London 2012 publication, there are three 4-page articles. Two about hockey and one about Usain Bolt (which included a full page photo). There are 28 pages to cover 15 days of the Games - mostly photos. Our attention spans have definitely narrowed, which is sad.

One of the things that hasn't changed is talk about boycotts.

The first article in the magazine was about the 1984 Olympic Games which included the effects of the boycott by the Soviet Union and most of its allies.

It's interesting to read some of the opinions thirty years later.

There are those who predict that the boycott, on top of other recent Olympic misfortunes, will hasten the demise of the Games
I'm happy to see that this was not the case.

Cynics may sneer, but the Olympics continue to exert a remarkably strong hold on much of humankind. It's possible that they're not on their last legs. One could, in fact, view them as being on the rebound after hitting bottom with the bloodshed at the 1972 Games in Munich, next to which the lack of a few frills or a boycott by this or that superpower pales in importance
I still don't believe that boycotting is the avenue for change. That's not to say that by attending the Olympics we don't want change. I think there are better ways to deal with the issues in the world.
The G20 summit starting today would be one of those avenues. Where is that G20 summit happening with the world leaders arriving and shaking Putin's hand and posing for photo ops? It is being held in St. Petersburg, Russia. Let's hope there is a serious discussion about the anti-gay rights in Russia. Our leaders should be the ones to take action not our athletes.
The simple fact is that all the Olympics have been flawed, some quite seriously, yet each has produced elevating drama and moments that might unapologetically be described as magical.
Even with the controversy of China hosting in 1988, I can agree that once the Games begin, we can forget the problems of the world for a few magical moments. You can read my Canadian memorable moments from the 2008 Games here and part 2 here that includes Canadian and international memorable moments.

When I imagine Simon Whitfield throwing his hat down and chasing the three leaders down to win silver, I don't think of him being in China. When I remember Mark Tewksbury's smile as he wins Olympic gold, I don't remember what country he was in. The same goes for Daniel Igali's dance around the Canadian flag. At the Olympic Games, the athletes and the sports are (and should be) the focus.
By enjoying the Olympics, it does not mean that we don't care about world issues but just like we take a break from work, we can take a break from the troubles of the world. While the Games are held, we can take the opportunity to learn more about the country and report on it and demand change but in the end, the G20 meeting is a better arena for the conversation and for results.
"It will be more difficult now to get everyone together in the future," "It will be easier for countries to say they won't come over some little misunderstanding that could be worked out."
There have been so many calls for boycotts in past Olympics. I'm happy that the world's leaders have not used it as a means to make a point since 1984. Social media has made this year's call for a boycott the loudest, but looking back (and googling boycott with the various Olympics), it's difficult to find one that hasn't had calls for a boycott.

Over and over again, athletes write about the benefits of travelling the world, of seeing different countries, different cultures and broadening their horizons by seeing how different (and similar) we are around the world.

Hosting an Olympics lets the world see you for the good and the bad you have to offer. It is an opportunity to have a discussion, to open our eyes (and hopefully theirs). Otherwise, let's just host the Olympics in the same place every time. Let's find that perfect country without controversy and that no one in the world disagrees with. Is there such a place?

Attending the Olympics is an opportunity for everyone to put their differences aside, at least for a couple of weeks. It's a chance for athletes to try to be faster, higher, stronger. That hasn't changed in the last 30 years.

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