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The glory and the shame of the OlympicsPosted: August 4, 2012

Perceptions by Gerry Warner

Citius. Altius. Fortius! Unless you’re a classical scholar, you probably don’t know what those words mean, but they’re very relevant now with the London Olympics the main topic of conversation on the airwaves and around the water cooler, social media and such. But you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” the famous, or should that be infamous, Olympic motto?  I think I favour the latter.

And only a few days into the Games of the London XXX Olympiad, the fires of controversy are already flaming high over an Olympian known as “the young general,” Ye Shiwen, the pint-size but powerful 16-year-old Chinese female swimmer that swims faster than a man. Maybe that’s her problem.

Funny how the Western media has never raised any concerns about Michael Phelps, the American swimming sensation who has won 22 medals all told and counting and we know that he once smoked marijuana out of a bong at a party. Or for that matter the Australian swimming dynamo Ian Thorpe, or the “Thorpedo,” as he is more commonly known for his free-style exploits in the pool. Hmmm, is there a pattern here? Could be.

Oh, if the Olympics were only about peace, love and good sportsmanship the way the Olympic mavens would like us to believe. But in a world full of hate, war and racial resentment that is obviously asking for far too much. And when you throw drugs into the mix it becomes an impossible situation. Or so it would seem.

As far as “the young general” goes, the Olympic Committee is standing resolutely behind the Chinese phenom. “I haven’t personally any reason other than to applaud. . .” says IOC Medical Chief Arne Ljungqvist, pointing out that Shiwen was tested right after her gold medal performance like all other gold medal winners and her results came out absolutely clean. “My results came from hard work and training and I would never used (sic) any banned drugs. The Chinese people have clean hands,” said Shiwen to a skeptical Western media. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite true because Chinese swimmers have a history of drug usage and not for toking marijuana.

Despite this, Chinese bloggers rushed to her defence with one saying: “She’s just a child. Don’t be so beastly to her.”

However, another wasn’t so sure. “Maybe the Chinese have discovered some sort of new drug, for how could she suddenly have become this strong?” And so on.

Personally, I’d like to believe Shiwen is as pure as the driven snow. An idealist at heart, I buy into the Olympic myth to a certain degree which is why I was yelling with glee Wednesday night as I watched the re-play of the Men’s 8 rowing race where the Canadian stalwarts rowed their hearts out, grabbing a silver medal ahead of the British and almost besting the Germans near the end. And as I write this, I’ve just heard of the Canadian Women’s 8 grabbing silver as well. Yay! And Oh Canada. Eight medals so far. What an Olympics we’re having.

But even saying this, my mind wanders back to Canada’s day of Olympic infamy in the 1988 Olympics when a watery and glassy-eyed Ben Johnson sped down the 100-metre track to Olympic glory and ultimate shame when he tested positive for steroids. Many, and I’m one of them, believe every runner in that race used “the juice” at one time or the other prior to that race including Carl Lewis. Poor Ben’s team just wasn’t as good at masking their machinations and an entire country was shamed in one of the Olympics’ lowest moments.

So where does that leave us? I once heard of a story, likely apocryphal, but who knows, of  a poll taken at an Olympic village several years back where the world’s best athletes were asked if they could take a pill that would guarantee them a gold medal but they would be dead at 30 how many would take it? Supposedly close to 90 per cent said they would.

You doubt this? Maybe so, but remember Florence Griffith-Joyner or “Flo-Jo” as she was more commonly known. Once considered the fastest female in the world, the muscular, black American tore up the track in the 1988 Seoul Olympics winning three gold medals, but in 1998 she died in her sleep at the grand old age of 38.

An autopsy at the time was inconclusive about drug use, but you be the judge. In the meantime: go Canada go!

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist who is currently a City of Cranbrook councillor. The views expressed are his and not views of the city council.


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