Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Airbrushed Olympians

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Airbrushed Olympians

Article excerpt

Byline: VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH

The Ancient Greek Olympics C4

WITH three weeks to go before the Olympics get underway in Athens, athletes are already being accused of taking Nandrolone and other banned substances, but I don't think that's fair. After all, the rest of us rely on artificial stimulants to help us through the day (tea, coffee, nicotine, booze, what's your drug?), so why not abandon these ludicrous attempts to catch illicit users, and simply allow the unrestricted use of performance-enhancing substances in sport?

Then we could give up the hypocritical pretence that all athletes are drug-free (when many are obviously not) and, better still, the world's great pharmaceutical companies could openly compete against each other at my quadrennial Chemolympics[umlaut].

Imagine the patriotic thrill of seeing the plucky British AstraZeneca pipping the wily American Pfizer to take the gold medal. Call me an old jingoist, but I believe that British drugs are the best in the world, and our boys and girls deserve the chance to prove it.

Listening to the rosy commentary that accompanied C4's The Ancient Greek Olympics on Saturday night, you'd think that unauthorised drug use and other forms of corruption have no place in the modern Games.

"The Olympics have taken on the quality of a moral force," writer/ director Anthony Thomas declared without a trace of irony in his script, "today we think of peace and international understanding, the pursuit of excellence in the spirit of friendship and fair play ... equality between the sexes ...

between all races and nations ... respect for the valiant loser."

Was he really talking about the event that will shortly take place in Athens, and which is already awash with allegations of widespread steroid injecting, systematic bribery of IOC members, illicit sponsorship deals, and dozens of deaths in the construction industry due to the reckless rush to meet looming deadlines?

Or perhaps he was referring to the Special Olympics, where the emphasis on coming first is less intense, because the wheelchair-bound competitors all know that there's something even more important than winning gold. Walking.

As part of the process of softening up viewers ahead of the misery of next month's 24/7 athletics-fest, the programme sought to recreate the original Greek games, as they might have looked circa 776 BC. Thus it was that we saw a conjectural reconstruction of the ancient Temple of Zeus and running track at Olympia (unconvincingly intercut with what's left of the original), on which young men sprinted, jumped, threw javelins, wrestledand raced chariots, while being cheered on by a bunch of Hellenic chiton-clad Sealed Knotters.

Trying to remake Ben-Hur on a low budget was frankly unwise (the slo-mo techniques couldn't disguise the fact that this was a cast of dozens, not thousands), while prudishness meant that the athletes were wearing absurd thongs when they should have been naked, thus further undermining the loudly-trumpeted claims of historical accuracy. …

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