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Oh, Lord, It’s Hard to be Gumbel

Posted by The Curmudgeon on February 21, 2010

A timely blast from the past—courtesy of Lord Bryant the (not so) Humble

So…I’m tossing around topic ideas in my head for a new blog posting…the Olympics are on TV…

…and I see this guy sliding this big hunk of granite across a sheet of ice and a couple other guys furiously swinging brooms…

And I wonder to myself: This is considered a sport?

At about that time, I heard an announcer quote someone as having said that curling’s training regimen seemed to consist of drinking beer and playing cards.

“Curling,” I murmured.

Eureka. I had my topic.

There has long existed a feeling that the Winter Olympics aren’t exactly in keeping with what those ancient Greeks had in mind—and events like slalom, bobsledding, and the biathlon don’t merit the prestige of Olympic medals enjoyed by traditional (summer) events like the discus, marathon, and javelin.

I would remind those detractors that summer events have been added and dropped through the years; in doing a little research, I find no record of gymnastics, pole-vaulting, or water polo having been around back in the good old (really old) days. Indeed, it all started with just one event (and so it remained until the 14th Olympiad—in 724 BC), and later Olympiads included chariot racing, more running events, boxing (a pretty brutal affair), wrestling, the pentathlon, and other popular events—so, adding events isn’t exactly a modern idea. The competition evolved in certain areas, but was for the most part a male-only endeavor.

Oh, and for the real traditionalists…the contestants competed naked—and sometimes coated their bodies with olive oil (one can only imagine the effect on wrestling matches—though I somehow doubt that it much resembled the style of all-female nude oil wrestling popularized in modern-day “gentlemen’s clubs”).

But, I digress.

Apologies to all those curling enthusiasts out there, but…nope; I just can’t see calling that a “sport.” Figure skating? Yeah…but, ice dancing? No—at least, no more than square-dancing or the tango would be if the surface wasn’t frozen. (Conversely, I don’t think the Summer Olympics should include synchronized swimming—aka “water ballet”—nor that weird rhythm gymnastics business with the streamers and ribbons and stuff.)

The Winter Olympics per se, though, I consider to be valid athletic competition. We generally legitimize only those sporting events that demand a mix of physical conditioning and skill derived from intense training and effort—and having seen the strength, stamina and agility most events require, I frankly don’t understand arguments that winter sports in general do not meet this test.

With that in mind, I’d like to thank those wonderful folks at the Media Research Center (MRC) for supplying a timely reminder of comments made by Bryant Gumbel on the eve of the preceding Olympiad:

 

“Finally tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don’t like ’em and won’t watch ’em. In fact, I figure when Thomas Paine said “these are the times that try men’s souls,” he must have been talking about the start of another Winter Olympics. Because they’re so trying, maybe over the next three weeks we should all try too.

“Like try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention.

“Try not to point out that something’s not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what’s called a “kiss and cry” area while some panel of subjective judges decides who won. And try to blot out all logic when announcers and sports writers pretend to care about the luge, the skeleton, the biathlon and all those other events they don’t understand and totally ignore for all but three weeks every four years.

“Face it, these Olympics are little more than a marketing plan to fill space and sell time during the dreary days of February. So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they’re done and we can move on to March Madness, for God’s sake, let the games begin.”

 

Well.

Apparently, somebody forgot to tell Gumbel that the ancient Greeks never heard of basketball, either—but that hasn’t resulted in its exclusion from the Olympics. And since when does the ethnicity of the competitors determine their “greatness?” (It could be argued that he should take a hard look at the racial mix prevalent in his beloved March Madness—and perhaps he’d like to enlighten us with his explanation for the “paucity of blacks” competing in winter sports, since I’m not aware of any prohibition against blacks using ski slopes or skating rinks.) He seems likewise unaware that the Olympics draw athletes from around the world to compete in events that have universal appeal—not just events popular in the United States; his trashing of the biathlon wouldn’t play well in Europe, at all—and though he may think of speed skating as being suitable only for Dutch canals, the South Korean team might take umbrage.

One must wonder whether Mr. Gumbel may simply be loath to embrace the diversity of other cultures. (Couldn’t resist that one.)

The modern Olympics aren’t perfect—and neither were their forebearers. Politics sometimes became intertwined then as now. The increasingly-common practice of luring athletes from one country to another wasn’t unheard of back then, either. While we rail against a “subjective panel of judges” who sometimes seem to operate under their own agenda, it’s probably preferable to the old Greeks’ boxing matches wherein the fight continued until one of the pugilists surrendered—or died. And whereas Olympic competitors until fairly recently were frequently athletes who spent years squeezing-in training sessions while trying to lead an otherwise normal existence (rising well before dawn to run or skate or lift weights before rushing off to school or work, devoting hours of disciplined training at the expense of other aspects of their lives—sacrificing, in other words), it has now become more of a business—and I personally think we lost something along the way. But that’s just me. Imperfect and infuriating (at times) though the Olympics may be, they’re still something special—summer or winter.

The Olympics in ancient times grew out of a reverence for the spirit of competition and were in fact celebrations also of the human body itself. They were festivals that gained momentum and popularity over a period of hundreds of years. They — and all sports — evolved like everything else in life.

Perhaps Gumbel should evolve with them.

Or perhaps he merely yearns to watch naked, oiled-up dudes wrestling—though apparently only if they’re the correct color.

________

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One Response to “Oh, Lord, It’s Hard to be Gumbel”

  1. Laura said

    He’s so darn arrogant.

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