By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor
THE OLYMPICS at one time were thought to be an international competition that was free of politics. But that idea went out the window a long time ago.
The games have been the subject of boycotts and terrorist attacks. They are a venue for political maneuvering and demonstrations.
While there has been no great love between the United States and Russia — even before the Soviet Union broke up — the Winter Olympics this year in Russia are a time that we are reminded of past conflicts.
I still feel sadness for the 1980 United States team that was not allowed by our country to participate in the Summer Games in the Soviet Union. And I even felt bad for the Soviet and Eastern Bloc athletes when their countries boycotted the games in Los Angeles in 1984.
The athletes were simply political pawns. And when you train so hard and make the national team, it has to be crushing to be told you can’t compete.
The major problem of course is that the Olympics only come around every four years. So very few of the United States athletes from that 1980 team were still able to compete well enough to earn a spot in 1984.
And the political maneuvering isn’t just between countries. When a recently established Russian law came out against homosexual “propaganda,” it created a spark heard around the world.
So not only has the United States sent some openly gay athletes to the games, Chevrolet will be running ads on TV that show gay couples.
It will be interesting to see the reaction, not only in Russia, but even in the United States where there is still bigotry toward gay and lesbian couples.
Unfortunately, the true meaning of the Olympics as a venue for pure athletics is long gone. At one time, only amateur athletes were permitted to compete for the United States.
Next thing you know, our sports organizations starting sending professional athletes to compete, just so we could say our country is better than Russia or other nations that have pretty much used professionals forever.
So, at least for me and other sports purists, the Olympics have lost a great deal of luster. I don’t need to watch the Olympics to see LeBron James, or Tiger Woods or Rafael Nadal compete. I can see them all the time on TV.
And pretty much all the skiers, figure skaters or hockey players are pros as well.
Sadly for many athletes, it’s not about the sports themselves. It’s more about winning and then selling themselves for advertising or speaking engagements.
To put it simply, the Olympic Games are a far cry from when they started in Greece centuries ago. It’s a shame.
They even wear clothes today!
Lynn Saternow is sports editor of The Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.