The Rio Olympics are now history. At the official closing ceremony, the IOC President traditionally compliments the hosts by saying, “These have been the best Games ever. Few Europeans had the chance to watch the ceremony because of the late time slot. Even though Thomas Bach said this, the words surely did not come easy to him, since the Games turned out to be very far from ideal.
The IOC President, who made his debut in the summer Olympics as the world’s most influential sports official, would undoubtedly choose to forget the Rio Games as soon as possible. Neither the great swimmer Michael Phelps, with his total of 23 Olympic gold medals, nor Usain Bolt with his fantastic hat-trick of winning two sprints and relay at a third Olympics in a row, could outweigh the negative impression left by the Brazil Games.
By all means, I do not think that Thomas Bach, the legendary fencer, deserves to be reproached for hypocricy. In fact, it was Bach who saved the Olympics from disaster, caused by a doping scandal with full-scale Russian involvement.
Despite enormous political pressure, as well as pressure from WADA officials, journalists and the athletes demanding the best, he managed to preserve the Olympics as a whole, as a competition for the best athletes in the world. Even with a loss of face, this goal has nevertheless been achieved.
By keeping the Russian team in the games, even after having been formidably reduced in size, Bach saved the Rio Olympics, and possibly future ones as well, from repeating the collapse of the early 80’s.
Back then there were two Olympics back-to-back which were subject to a mutual boycott by the world, which was divided in two.
First the Moscow Games was ignored by the US and most Western European countries, and then the Soviet Union and its allies struck back, refusing to send their teams to Los Angeles. Making a major sports tournament part of the Cold War confrontation, politicians devaluated the victories at those Olympics, and that was their only “achievement”.
The sportsmen themselves know, first of all, that the medals they obtained there sparkle differently, as competition was not at its highest level. Yekaterini Stefanidi, who won women’s pole jumping for Greece in Rio, probably feels the same way now. It is definitely not her fault that Yelena Isinbayeva, her chief rival and legend, was not allowed to compete. The two-time Olympic champion and holder of numerous world records, with a long and immaculate career, was banned from participating because of the doping activities of her fellow Russians. “Whoever wins in Rio will really come in second place, Isinbayeva said angrily after the verdict, and the words seem to be a reproach of the new Olympic champion Stefanidi, words that won’t soon be played down.
Isinbayeva might have been less tough in her attitude. However, after she was told she would not be allowed to compete, Isinbayeva claims to have sent messages to other jumpers calling upon them to show solidarity and openly support her. She received not a single reply.
Her reaction is no surprise. The Olympics lost its honor long ago. If this wasn’t the case, the doping scandals wouldn’t have taken place. The desire to win, at any price, is something that doesn’t solely pertain to Russian athletes, who found themselves in the epitome of a scandal. It is a sad fact that any professional sport also involves a competition between pharmacologists.
Who is the best at concealing doping activities is as important as who runs the fastest. This is becoming more and more obvious with every Olympics. Some “clean sportsmen are framed, while some, even years later, remain uncaught.
Even if modern technology against doping allows cheating to be uncovered, the Olympic movement itself, which has been a highly profitable business for a long time, will not allow its heroes to be discredited. The legends of the business are not to be sacrificed.
That is why all the record times, points and kilograms cause a stir.
In spite of this, there are positive memories of the Rio Olympics, too, inspired by the great Olympic ideals which were revived by Pierre de Coubertin a century ago.
During the women’s 5,000-meter qualification run, Nicky Hamblin from New Zealand and Abbey D’Agostino from the US collided with each other and suffered injuries. The New Zealander helped the American, who had a worse injury, to her feet. Both of them went to the finish line limping. The two came in last, but who would dare to call them losers?