Ho, hum. Summer Olympics are here

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The front page of today's newspaper blares of election results that have soaked our attention for months now. So at long last, the first stage of the political process is behind us and we can now turn our attention to the general elections in November when the stakes are even higher.

But give it a rest! I'm sick of politics for the time being. Let's talk The Olympics - one of the few topics about which we know even less than politics.

Starting this week and running through Aug. 24, NBC and ESPN.com will try to woo you with countless hours of Olympic sports coverage. After all, the peacock network has invested enough money to run a small country in an attempt to generate interest in the summer games. I'm far from sure it was a wise investment.

The truth is we Americans pay little attention to the Olympics unless the news media creates some story that piques our interest. Of the 28 Olympic sports vying for the Gold Medal, Americans would be hard-pressed to discuss badminton, judo, archery, sailing, handball or fencing. And honestly, we don't care much about kayaking or rowing or water polo. But these sports will be on our agenda for hours and hours in the coming weeks. And like robots, we'll watch some despite our lack of interest.

This summer's Olympic Games are a chance for the People's Republic of China - the host country - to put on a display and give the impression they are a modern country on par with the other major venues of the world. The Chinese have bussed thousands of their homeless to the country to avoid the embarrassment of probing television cameras and have ordered thousands of vehicles grounded to deal with daily pollution. They have spent billions to put on a shiny face for the world to see. And the television cameras will dutifully record the Chinese metropolis in all of its splendor. Never mind that while we give them the spotlight, they secretly ship nuclear materials to Iran. Heck, forgive and forget - this is the Olympic season.

So for 16 days and 17 nights, we'll share the Olympic experience and try to pay attention to sports we would never choose to watch otherwise.

I started to take a skeptical view of the Olympic spectacle a few years back when they ruled our professional basketball players could compete in this amateur gathering. That may generate some much-needed television ratings and bring some interest from this country, but who can pretend that LeBron James or Kobe Bryant should compete as amateurs representing this country?

Before the month is over, we'll learn names of gymnasts and swimmers who carry the stars and stripes proudly. But just as quickly, we'll forget their names when the closing ceremony winds down.

The spirit and tradition of the Olympic Games is a noble venture. But it has become, like so many other things, a political game complete with boycotts and cheating. Already, seven athletes scheduled to compete were banned because they failed a gender test. And we haven't even started to talk about steroids or illegal doping, which will surely rear its ugly head.

In many ways, these Olympics are a lot like politics. More style than substance. More flash than performance. And in many cases, much ado about nothing.

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