In the search for a tie-breaker in the men’s high jump competition at the Tokyo Olympics, officials were pretty much determined what type of uniform they preferred or which name would be easier to spell.
And this second would not help, as the contestants were Mutaz Essa Barshim from Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi from Italy.
So they approached the two men together, after each had climbed all heights up to 7-9 5/16 feet without missing, and after failing all three attempts allowed at 7-10 3/32. They began to explain the potential procedures for determining who would walk away with a gold medal and who walk away with a silver medal. Barshim interrupted him rather quickly:
“Can we have two gold medals?
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“It’s possible,” the official said, then tried to continue selling the prospect of a “stepping stone”.
The discussion was over, however. The two, good friends despite years of fierce competition, looked at each other, slapped each other’s hands and kissed each other: they would share the biggest prize in their sport. We’ve all seen Michael Jordan dunk, Simone Biles fly away, Mike Trout chase an impossible fly ball. Despite all this magnificence, it would be hard to find a sporting moment as beautiful as the one Barshim and Tamberi shared with all of us.
And only the Olympic Games could have provided the stage.
There is a movement, better illustrated by the protest organized on the day of the opening ceremonies two weeks ago, to suppress the Olympic Games. First held in modern times in 1896, the Olympic Games have grown significantly: from 241 athletes in nine sports to 11,090 athletes in 33 sports, including skateboarding and speed climbing. Oh, and also a winter sports version.
The Olympics were hampered by controversies over bidding procedures that led to a scandal over the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and, more disconcertingly, cost issues that plagued many host cities and nations. since at least 1976 the Montreal Games. The Olympics are a human creation that has turned into a big business, so it’s no surprise that they are plagued by greed, power games, and self-glorification.
Author David Goldblatt, who has written a book on the subject titled “The Games: A Global History of the Olympics,” told The New York Times: “The Olympics are not reformable and, on the whole, they do more harm than good. . “
The problem is, this statement could be made about virtually any large organization, from government to religion to big business. If we were to eliminate anything that could be corrupted or just plain wrong, what would we be left behind? (Hey, Styx and Kansas are still not at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, so we might even have to shut down all the music).
Humans can ruin everything if their concerns don’t extend beyond the room they reside in. The United Nations was founded for this reason, its charter affirming the will to address “economic, social, health and related problems” and to defend “human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction. race, sex, language or religion ”. The work done there couldn’t be more important. Some of them involve mitigating disputes that could escalate into war, or addressing the global impact of climate change. We are mainly a better world because of what is happening in these buildings along the eastern New York City River.
The Olympics, however, are literally the only time the whole world comes together to engage in something wonderful. They have representatives from 205 nations: more than there are actual countries, as places like Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong are allowed to field their own teams. Everyone is there for two weeks every four years – ideally, anyway – to pursue athletic excellence and achievement, which isn’t necessarily the same thing.
For American swimmer Caeleb Dressel, the goal in Tokyo was to win five individual gold medals and everything that became possible in the relays, and that’s what he delivered. However, when Robina Jalali arrived at the Athens Olympics in 2004, just taking the track as an Afghan woman was an extraordinary moment, just a few years after her country’s officials banned girls like her. even going to school.
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A huge fountain, called the Magic Fountain of Montjuic, resides near the center of Barcelona. Behind, a series of steps leads to the Palau Nacional, a huge art museum. When I covered the Olympics in 1992, I walked past these monuments and saw them filled with masses of people from all over the world, stuck together but smiling at the beauty of one of the world’s greatest cities. and the joy of coming together to celebrate this occasion. I saw Michelangelo’s statue of David and the mountains of Maui and “Hamilton” with its original cast. But this scene in Barcelona is the most breathtaking that I have encountered.
There are certainly problems with the Olympics. Fewer cities want to serve as hosts because of the huge costs involved in building many sites that have no long-term utility. The tendering process itself does not appear to have been entirely repaired by the Salt Lake City scandal.
Would it be great if there was an endless rotation of cities with finances and real estate to accommodate the buildings needed for cycling, beach volleyball and water polo? Sure. This is not our world. It would not affect the charm of the Games to be held in a particular city, or a series of cities, with venues already in place or mostly in place.
We’ve learned from Tokyo – with the venues largely empty due to COVID restrictions – that what happens on the playground is what matters most. NBC used a map of Tokyo and the surrounding area to show where a particular event is taking place, but that doesn’t matter because hardly anyone is there. When the camera is on inside this building, we see a boxing ring or a wrestling mat or a basketball court, and we see athletes engaging in the fulfillment of a dream that they have been chasing. All their life.
We saw Flora Duffy swim 1,500 meters, pedal 40 kilometers and run 10 km to complete the Olympic triathlon and win the first gold medal in the history of her country, Bermuda, a small and beautiful island in the Atlantic. with a population smaller than Carmel. , Ind.
We saw the joy of wrestler Tamyra Mensah-Stock, the first black woman to win a gold medal in her sport for the United States.
We’ve seen trap shooter Alessandra Perilli win a bronze medal for becoming the first for San Marino, a republic comprising just 21 square miles in the Apennines, to step onto the podium. And then the nation won two more medals, one in shooting and one in wrestling.
We saw a video of the delirium contained in a room full of classmates in Seward as teenage Lydia Jacoby came in from behind to achieve a major shake-up in the 100-meter breaststroke and win the first swimming gold medal for the State of Alaska, which is known more for ice than water.
These are moments that only the Olympic Games could have offered us.
“I see the Olympics as the most powerful way to promote world unity,” Billy Mills, 1964 10,000-meter gold medalist Billy Mills told NBC Sports. “We are all connected.”
The erasure of this quadrennial celebration would not mean that there would be no more corruption or abuse of power in the world. He would continue, in different incarnations. But Olympians’ own dreams – including simply becoming an Olympian – would die.
The Olympic Games are not perfect. They can be improved. But neither are they just a worthwhile business. They are essential.