Some like to think of the Olympic Games as the non-political antidote to geopolitical strife. Not so. On the official, bureaucratic level, ideology and the Olympics are becoming increasingly, and ever more ridiculously, intertwined.
Take the distribution of 51 condoms to each competitor in Sydney. "The contraceptives," reported the London newspaper the Mirror, "were issued in a variety of styles, fruit flavors, and textures - including one called 'rough rider.'"
Why 51 and not 49, or 52? Because, silly, the Games spanned 17 days and the athletes needed a daily regimen of...three.
This politically correct stunt became fodder for jokes, and deservingly so. Jay Leno quipped that "the last time anyone was given 51 condoms [was] when Clinton visited the Miss America pageant. Remember, Puerto Rico was there." But handing out contraception under such circumstances - presumably, most residents of the Olympic Village didn't know one another before they moved in - makes a statement about condoned sexual behavior which would make Hugh Hefner very proud indeed.
Then there was the joint appearance at the opening ceremonies of the South Korean and North Korean teams, marching behind the flag - a blue outline of the Korean peninsula on a field of white - of neither country. The crowd of 110,000 at Stadium Australia cheered and applauded heartily, and Olympic boss Juan Antonio Samaranch declared that the march-in symbolized "friendship" and "peace."
The New Republic's assessment of this dreadful spectacle was spot-on: "The joint march...didn't promote world peace; it promoted the moral equality of states - the notion that there is no important distinction between a liberal democracy like South Korea and the primitive despotism to its north...For the Olympics to help the Stalinists in Pyongyang...is bad enough. For egocentric gasbags like Samaranch to call it a step forward for humanity verges on obscene."
Several journalists just couldn't resist offering wackily ideological perspectives on the Games. I can't resist awarding them medals.
The bronze goes to Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. After the U.S. gold-medal-winning 4x100 men's relay team obnoxiously celebrated its triumph, Jenkins opined, "The [team's] flaunting and preening...was your basic example of the decline of Western civilization...We've gone from the 1968 Mexico City Games, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and delivered their black-gloved salutes on the medal [platform], to this. What Smith and Carlos committed was an act of conscience. What we had [in Sydney] was a spaz-out...The politics of the individual have replaced the politics of revolution."
Yes, the team members acted like jerks. But only a Washington Post scribe could find that antithetical to the nobility of the athletes who embraced a racist, and murderous, organization.
The silver medal is awarded to Caryn James of the New York Times, for this section of her analysis of NBC's coverage of the Games: "Even the star-making machinery is oddly out of touch, with huge streaks of lingering Cold War mentality...The American swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg is one of the most appealing personalities, low-key and modest. One of the many features about him - born in [Soviet-ruled Ukraine], moved to California - began, 'He's known life behind the Iron Curtain and in the land of opportunity.'"
So far, so good. But then this whopper from James: "When is the last time you heard the term 'Iron Curtain' used with a straight face?"
Answer: The last time a Times reporter used that term with a straight face was probably the last time the term "objective" was applied to the Times.
Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated takes the gold medal for his story on "a married couple compet[ing] against each other for the first time in Olympic history." The couple consists of team-handball players Camilla Andersen of Denmark and Mia Hundvin of Norway. Yep, both are women who "three months ago...quietly married, signing documents as 'registered partners' in Copenhagen's town hall."
Smith, unfortunately, is not finished. He notes approvingly that people in Scandinavia are "among the world's least sexually straitjacketed" and that the reaction there to the couple indicates that "mankind, at least in its northernmost outposts, seem[s] to have climbed a rung or two." He also throws in a little Harlequin Romance-style prose: "All through the long buildup to their first-round Olympic match, Camilla and Mia wrestled with a dilemma. Should they cloak their love and live a lie, or shout it from the rooftops?"
Sometimes you wonder if the athletes were the only ones on drugs.