Magazine article The American Conservative

Buying Trophies

Magazine article The American Conservative

Buying Trophies

Article excerpt

I always used to cheer for Uncle Sam's team where international sports were concerned. The bad old Soviets, we were told, used illegal drugs and turned hairy male shot putters into women, depriving pretty American college girls from winning gold in the Olympics. It used to make me furious, especially when professional hockey players from the Soviet Union would play amateur Yankee kids in hockey and rub their noses on the ice. Then Lake Placid happened and I felt better. But not for long. I watched the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and was appalled by the professionalism involved in what back then was supposedly an amateur competition. I thought of Valéry Borsov, the great Russian sprinter of the '70s, and his victories seemed somehow worthier than those of American and Canadian sprinters during the '80s. What was going on for me to feel as unpatriotic as I did? Just ask Barry Bonds.

Borsov's head did not literally expand, nor did Sergei Bubka's, the greatest pole vaulter ever. Both were intelligent enough to know that steroids kill. Both were great champions who did not try to get rich overnight, nor did they listen to unscrupulous coaches who urged them to dope. Borsov and Bubka no longer compete, of course, but if they did, I sure would be rooting for them and to hell with Uncle Sam's puffed up preeners. The Atlanta Olympics of 1996 have to go clown as the worst in history.

In its second appearance, the Dream Team - made up of professional NBA players - won gold but not before a behemoth multi-millionaire by the name of Barkley elbowed a starving Angolan to the ground while piling on the score. Sportsmanship as an Olympic ideal had taken a holiday.

Next year in Beijing there will be more of the charade, but I stopped caring long ago. Professionals do not inspire me. The amateur who glories in his effort does. Personally I like individual sports. College wrestling, judo, karate, boxing, tennis. One goes in alone and has no one to blame if he loses.

When I used to play polo back in the early 70s, each team had a fat cat who paid for the horses and cantered around the field while the rest of us charged up and down risking our necks. If we won, the big shot would collect the prize, have his picture taken holding the cup, and brag about his victory later on in some nightclub. …

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