I’ve determined that the overarching theme of the Olympic Games is not hope. Nor, for that matter, competition, international brotherhood, friendship, or the thrill of sport.
Nope, the theme of the Olympic Games is disappointment.
There are roughly 10 500 participants in the London 2012 Summer Games. They hail from 204 countries or loosely affiliated geographic groups. Great Britain has the largest number of competitors (541) while there are 11 countries with only 2 athletes each.
Coming from a relatively wealthy, populous country (with 277 participants), I’ve become used to the lovely feel-good stories of the handful of successful Canadian athletes. Watching Rosie MacLennan win Gold in the trampoline was awfully nice, especially given the convenient narrative of her grandfather missing out on competing in the Olympics because of the outbreak of World War 2. (I felt a bit let down, however, by how often I heard about it being “Canada’s” medal in the ten minutes immediately following the win, particularly since I almost crippled myself on a trampoline a few weeks ago, proving once again that I may lay no claim to any athletic achievement, no matter my geographic affiliation.)
But there are a lot of countries that will likely leave these games completely empty-handed. There are thousands of competitors that will see their four years of work rewarded with nothing more than a DNF, last place, DQ, or an inglorious fall (Remember Perdita Felicien?). The victories will be disproportionately weighted with countries that have poured millions of dollars into their amateur athletics programs : There are about 2 100 medals being handed out, but that number is deceptive, because there are numerous team events like rowing, volleyball, and soccer, where multiple athletes from a single (usually rich) country will have their hands raised in victory. Right now, 51 countries, exactly ¼ of the total number participating, have been on the podium.
I’m not saying that the Olympics aren’t fun or important or worth doing (though the economic impact is often negative for the host cities). I’m just musing about how there are vastly more losers than winners at the Games. I use those terms intentionally; there is no way to ignore the message sent by raised podiums and hunks of precious metal to those not standing above while heavy about the neck with accolades.