5 Rotten Lows and 6 Jubilant Highs To Watch For In Rio
Tomorrow night begins the Olympics. And while seemingly all Olympic games pull tens of millions of viewers into the celebration of “other” sports (i.e. sports we only care about once every four years) amid a cloud of scandal, uncertainty and worries (Vancouver without snow; Sochi without snow and with inadequate facilities and then the Paralympics beginning after Russia’s Ukraine annexation; athletes being banned from London due to a new extension of the PED ban; the whole spectre of human rights in the shadows of Beijing on the eve of the 2008 Summer Games), this Friday we’ll be starting an Olympics games swirling with so much out-of-the-arena drama that we run the risk of losing sight of the celebration of international cooperation and human achievement that makes the Olympics one of our few great global unifiers.
Here’s a list of the 5 biggest concerns to watch for — and another list of 6 great performances to revel in — during the Rio Olympics.
5 Dark Brazilian Clouds To Pull Us Into Rio
Brazil Is Literally Collapsing Around the Rio Olympics
Brazil was for a brief period considered one of the great up-and-comers. That is now a long-ago gauzy dream, a golden era of hope looked at wistfully by Brazilians the same way that most Trump supporters view an America of long ago when blacks and Mexicans and women and non-Christians knew their place. With unemployment around 11%, the nation’s leader deposed after being embroiled in one of the largest international business scandals since the beginning of globalization, an economy shrinking faster than my respect for Bow Wow, and a corresponding spike in crime that has necessitated something like 85,000 security guards.
One of the clauses of Brazil’s IOC bid said they would set up filters to cut 80% of all human filth and trash running into Rio’s harbor where the sailing events would be held. They’re now saying it’s closer to 65% and health organizations are saying that seemingly any contact with the water will result in illness (also, other estimates have it closer to 50%, though I guess that’s still an improvement from 10%). And then there’s the mosquito-borne illness that shrinks the brains of in utero fetuses, a disease that can affect pregnancies for two years after catching it the disease, and at the same time a disease transmitted by sexual contact, an added threat considering the notoriously rampant freakfest that is Olympic village (and in Brazil this year, no less).
Will Russia be going? Won’t they? Who will stay home? Russia’s systemic doping during the last Olympics was recently discovered and unveiled. The IOC has been weighing the appropriate bans, trying to balance punishment with individual fairness, and as such we don’t know who all of Russia’s several hundred athletes will actually be going to the Games until the day before they’re set to start, though it looks like the number will be 110. Or a quarter of the Russian team.
Why Put Off Until Tomorrow What Can Be Done the Day Before the Opening Ceremony
Those silly Brazilians. You think they woulda learned their lesson when they began the World Cup without finishing their facilities. But nope, with less than 48 hours until the first athletes dive into the Rio Olympics, buildings from venues to athlete housing aren’t finished. Of course part of that is probably that many of the nation’s biggest builders were embroiled in the Petrobras scandal. But hey, as long as they get it done, right? There’s no risk inherent in rushing construction of buildings that will immediately be put through some of the largest crowds in the world, right? I mean Brazilians wouldn’t rush something to completion at the expense of building codes and stuff right? Right?
We’re Not Wanted
This is an extension of my first point but slightly different. It’s one thing for a country to be wracked by economic turmoil. If we avoided having the Olympics in nations with economic/political strife, they would be limited to about 8 nations, most of which would be in northern European countries. But for the first time ever, the Olympic torch was hounded by protesters decrying the money spent on the event while Brazil’s darker citizens live in shanty towns. Some people even tried to extinguish it and attack the carriers. This may be the most protested Olympics games ever; certainly the games whose nations’ citizens feel the least pride in hosting.
6 Life-Affirmingly Glorious Things To Watch For In the Rio Games
Get Thunderstruck By the Bolt
Usain Bolt is going for the first ever triple-triple in Olympic history. What’s that mean? He wants to sweep the three highest-profile track running events , the 100, 200 and 4×100, for the third time in a row. He’s won gold in all 3 for the last two Olympics. Sure, he’s almost 30. But still every runner says he seems to have another gear to kick into when they’re slowing down. The truth is he’s not running faster, he’s just slowing down slower. Whatever the reason, he’ll go down as one of the greatest sprinters in history, and this triple-triple, if attained at the Rio Olympics, will be a historic feat likely to stand for a damn long time. Whenever parents give me the stink eye for giving my toddler son sugar, my answer is always “Jamaican kids are raised on natural vegetables, goat meat and sugar. And Usain Bolt is one of the greatest athletes of all time.”
Michael Phelps’ Redemption?
Michael Phelps the swimmer is untouchable. Michael Phelps the private citizen is every endorsement agent’s worst nightmare. DUIs, the second of which resulted in a temporary ban from professional swimming (and let’s be honest, considering the fact that he’s the only man anybody knows other than meathead and perennial US #2 swimmer Ryan Lochte, that’s a huge sacrifice for professional swimming). But now on his fifth Olympics, will Phelps be able to defy old age, gain one more piece of jewelry and move into a retirement he might be able to cash in on without legal troubles that could scare away sponsors? At the least he’ll be the flagbearer and participate in opening night for the first time in his Olympic career.
Watch Simone Biles Revolutionize One Of the Oldest Sports
As a gymnastics national champion friend of mine once said, the sport was probably invented in ancient Greece with a guy doing a front somersault and evolved from there. And it’s a sport that in the past few years has been dominated by the Chinese. But Simone Biles, who was too young to compete in 2012 (she was 12), won the world championships in 2014 and put out comp videos that blew up everybody’s Facebook page at some point in the last 2 years. Get ready to see her mind-blowing tricks redefine what’s possible while she also throws in never-before-seen flare. With gymnastics point systems redefined so that the perfect 10 has been dropped in place of a scoring system where difficulty of tricks can lift a routine with a few blemishes over a perfect low upper level run, Biles could likely win gold with a few falls. But Biles also rarely fails. Oh yeah, and as a black woman representing America on the podium, it’ll create very conflicting emotions for patriotic adherents to America’s whole racism redux thing.
Yes, golf will be in the Olympics this year. And yes, Tiger Woods, who used to be really good at golf but now is like Tim Tebow (big name but marginal results, though unlike Tebow he actually had a long string of pro success) has lamented the quality of talent at an event he did a ton of lobbying for. The course will involve such dangers as evading capybaras (because apparently there are no quality golf courses in Rio di Janeiro not overrun by giant rodents?) and Matt Kuchar, the PGA-number-14 who qualified because top players like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are avoiding the games like the plague (or more accurately, like — actually because of — the Zika virus) didn’t know until a reporter told him that there was no team component to it. If nothing this should have plenty of “Oh Shit moments.” Oh, and Lydia Ko is looking to be the first woman to win a gold medal in golf ever since the sport has returned to the Games for the first time since 1904, when it was a male-only sport.
Brazil soccer has been an embarrassment ever since they were blown out 7-1 in their home World Cup 2 years ago and this last summer they were eliminated in the first round of the Copa America Centanario (the U.S. made the second round). Their coach was fired. And this will likely be Neymar’s last chance to win a huge international tournament for his home nation at home in his lifetime. Think the world’s best soccer player won’t pull out some magic at the Rio Olympics? Oh, and Brasilia has never won Olympic goal. NBD.
And First On LeDecky
American swimmer Katie Ledecky won a gold in London when she was 15. Now 19, holding 3 current world records and having set 11 records (and won every big tourney she’s swam in), she’s being heralded as one of America’s top hardware contenders as the favorite in the 2, 4, and 8 frees. Many outlets are calling Team USA’s best athlete in the Rio Olympics.
So get ready for what will be likely the sloppiest and most protested events while at the same time delivering on the kind of affirmative belief in the beauty of human union that we need so desperately in these divisive times. Inspiration on par with the first time you saw a Successories poster but it comes live and in the flesh.
So bring on “Bugler’s Dream” and Friday’s samba-beat-curve-filled opening night performance (which may or may not be suitable for your kids to watch).