On the loss of Olympic faith…
I was driving north up the New York thruway yesterday, glad to be a million miles from Rio, wishing I could be more excited by the many inspiring performances down there, when an old Kris Kristofferson song came on called “To Beat the Devil.” How apt, thought I, immersed as I’ve been with some particular devilish battles of late. Turned it up, let him lay it on me.
The truth remains that no one wants to know…
Truer words. The devil in the song was an old man sitting at the bar, looking to crush the dreams of the dead broke kid beside him holding his guitar. No need for further details. The beauty of the good tunes is their ability to set your mind spinning wherever it needs to go.
My mind went to the NBA, to the NHL, to the NFL, to FIFA, and to every other major sport that consumes so much of our time and passions. And of course thoughts went to doping, the devil that lurks inside each and every one of them.
As I understand it, neither the NBA nor the NHL bother to test players at all during the playoffs. You know, when you have groups of obsessively competitive multimillionaires competing in insanely draining series, where recovery is paramount. As far as I can tell, the NFL just doesn’t give a shit, and nor do its fans. And to be fair – to be a fan of American football (as I am), means suspending your moral compass for your own vicarious enjoyment. These guys are killing each other; they’re all likely going to die at an earlier age than you or I because of what they do for a living. In that context, one can see how the cleanliness of your favorite aging linebacker or quarterback seems a little less urgent.
It may take a decade or so to come to pass, but in my opinion here are the final results of a few races tonight in Rio…
Men’s 200 Free:
Gold – Chad Le Clos, South Africa
Silver – Conor Dwyer, USA
Bronze – James Guy, Great Britain
Women’s 100 Back:
Gold – Kathleen Baker, USA
Silver (tie) – Kylie Masse, Canada / Fu Yuanhui, China
Women’s 100 Breast:
Gold – Lilly King, USA
Silver – Katie Meili, USA
Bronze – Shi Jinglin, China
Of course, this being freedom of speech and all, feel free to disagree.
On the first night of swimming in Rio, Aussie Mack Horton out-touched China’s Sun Yang for gold in the 400 free… He did something that few athletes have the courage to do these days: He called his competitor a “drug cheat” and questioned why “athletes who have tested positive are still competing”… A good question. Why aren’t more athletes stepping up, stating the same, and showing the courage of their convictions?
It started with some warm-up pool taunting. Sun was trying to get into the 20-year-old Horton’s head. Word is he splashed him. (‘Bush league psych-out stuff’, in the words of the Big Lewbowski’s Jesus Quintana…) Horton wasn’t having it, and he wasn’t afraid to speak up either. He was soon telling the media that “He just kind of splashed me but I ignored him because I don’t have time or respect for drug cheats. He wasn’t too happy about that so he kept splashing me. I just got in and did my thing.”
His thing: To win Olympic gold in the 400, taking down Sun, the defending Olympic champion, by .13.
Then, at the post-race new conference, with Sun sitting next to him, he stuck by his previous comments, stating “I used the word drug cheat because he test positive. I just have a problem with athletes who have tested positive still competing.”
Some fitting art will have to do… Or as Hunter would have said: Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself.
From Grant Hackett to Michael Phelps to countless others, a swimmer’s relationship with booze can be a complicated thing…
Grant Hackett has a problem. I don’t mean an alcohol or a pill problem, those are just symptoms. It seems to me he has a lack-of-moderation problem. Which is to say, he has a swimmer problem.
On April 17th Hackett faced some unfortunate humiliation when he ‘tweaked the nipple’ of the guy in front of him after the 6’6″ Hackett objected to the passenger reclining his seat. Giving unsolicited titty-twisters to strangers abroad aircraft is generally inadvisable. In fact, no good is likely to come of it. Particularly if you’re shit-faced and you’re a public figure. No good came of this.
Not for the first time, Hackett was looped in public and found himself explaining some seriously embarrassing behavior. In February 2014, he was seen in the late night hours of a Melbourne hotel, mostly naked, very confused, searching for his four-year-old son. A couple days later he checked himself into rehab, citing a dependance to a drug called Stillnox – aka Ambien. (A drug it must be noted that is reputedly used widely by elite swimmers to help them adjust to jet lag when competing internationally…)
Like Michael Phelps in the wake of his substance-sparked mishaps, Hackett has always appeared afterwards contrite and taking full responsibility for his actions. I don’t know the man, but I know that he is beloved in and out of the sport, and commands about as much respect from his peers as any swimmer alive. It’s a damn shame that the most frequent adjective before his name these days is “troubled.”
Yet his troubles aren’t exactly surprising. Due to our rather extreme wiring, many swimmers have a very hard time with the m-word. In the dry land world, moderation is a prized quality. For swimmers, moderation seems to imply just doing enough. Enough to feel good, but not really going for it. In the pool, who respects that? And so, when swimmers climb out and crack one open, things can often get out of hand. Particularly when we dry off for good, or what seems like for good, and face a life without morning workouts or meets looming on the horizon.
The sport’s international governing body faces a reckoning and a rebellion… It may soon cease to exist at all.
The instinct with institutions is that they’ll always be there. The inevitable monolith that will always lumber on in control, behind the scenes, no matter the level of failure or incompetency. Too big to fail, to implacable to replace. Except that’s never been true. Nations are born, corporations crumble, bureaucracies are buried.
That’s where FINA now finds itself. Like its more famous, dastardly cousin FIFA, the organization that reputes to represent swimming has long been about as competent and transparent as soccer’s filthy world governing body. Finally, leaders on pool decks across the world are declaring that they’ve had it. It’s time FINA went the way of Sepp Blatter.
Last week at the American Swimming Coaches Association conference, bold moves were made. Enough is enough, said the collection of coaches. Whether it’s about drugs or negligence in competitions or just plain good governance, no one can trust the folks who claim to lead this sport from its summit in Lausanne, Switzerland. So, at the ASCA conference in Cleveland, the decision was made, to quote Swimming World’s Brent Ruttemiller, that “they were not going to try to reform FINA, they were going to replace FINA. That was made very clear here.”