The opening ceremonies of the Olympics have been upstaged–there’s been a death: a young luger from Georgia died while practicing his extreme sport. To manage the damage, pundits and experts have been hastily summoned to make their pronouncements. Granted, it’s never easy to talk about death, it requires a humanitarian perspective and genuine emotion expressed with humility. These qualities, not surprisingly, are in short supply in the five ring circus of the Olympic games and the people who make a nice living talking about them.
There was fellow Olympian, speed skater Caterina LeMay Doan in a snazzy new hairdo, intoning about the universal pain felt by the ‘community of athletes’ that would pull together in their shared pain and then carry on. She no doubt meant well, but unfortunately what came to mind was the real and unsharable agony of the young man’s family mourning for a beloved son. That kind of pain cannot and will never be ‘shared’.
Then there was the young doctor who explained the technical –and troubling–aspects of what the human body endures when it hurtles down an icy tunnel at 150 kilometres an hour. The way he explained it, nobody should be doing this, certainly not for glory and medals. It is sympotamic of a culture of extreme competition that ultimately cares more for competition than for the players. Other lugers said on camera that this course ‘is the most dangerous in the world’. But the head of the Canadian Luge team thinks otherwise; for him it’s all part of the thrill of competition. Death is an unfortunate side effect, the way he was talking.
Oddly enough, nobody recalled that another man from Georgia died in 1984 while trying to jump from the ten meter board. Dick Pound could not recall any other death during the Olympics aside from a cycling incident that had more to do with doping than anything else. It’s hard to believe that Mr. Pound is suffering from dementia; he must be suffering from selective memory.
In ancient Rome, they had Christians wrestling tigers and lions. We look down upon this as a barbaric form of public entertainment. Maybe we should ask if hurtling along at killing speeds in an icy tunnel, where a split second of inattention or bodily failure will kill you, is any different?
Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves what price glory? Why are we so hell bent on competition at any price, yes, even to the price of death? It’s time to rethink the parameters of competition. A good place to begin is to reflect on the original games on mount Olympus in Greece. Those games were dedicated to the Gods and to Virtue–arete– in its widest sense. Competition and pushing ever higher, ever faster was not the point
What are ours dedicated to?