The 2012 summer Olympics in London have begun.
I am not watching it, and I will not follow any of the events or results in the news.
I am speaking as one who has fond childhood memories of watching the summer Olympics, and even some exciting memories of watching as late as Athens 2004. Why my change of heart?
Not about sport
First, I have to say that I admire feats of strength, endurance, flexibility, and ingenuity in sport, and I appreciate the demonstrations of willpower and self-discipline that excellence in sport demand. So my problems with the Olympics have nothing to do with the natural and beautiful demonstration of human virtues that athletes at their best can display.
Memories as a child
I have positive memories of watching the Olympics on TV with my parents and sister when I was a child. I remember seeing Edwin Moses blasting past his competition as a hurdler; he was my hero because he was a science geek wearing glasses. I remember watching the struggling faces and bodies of marathoners such as Toshihiko Seko, who caught our eye because he was Asian.
Memories as an adult
For a long time, I stopped watching sports, but I watched Sydney 2000 because I had finally actually taken up running and was looking for inspiration. It was there the distance running events that I mostly paid attention to, and it was thrilling to see Haile Gebrselassie defeat Paul Tergat by the thinnest of margins in the 10000m. But I watched a whole lot of other stuff too, from swimming to Greco-Roman wrestling. I recorded off TV and watched hours and hours of Olympic coverage.
But as I watched the track sprint events, and more and more noticed how selective and slanted the American NBC coverage of the whole Olympics was, I grew to question what I was participating in by excitedly watching and discussing these games. Marion Jones was all hyped up by the American TV coverage, for example. And the rumors of illegal doping by athletes (not a new problem, of course; the Ben Johnson scandal was one reason I stopped watching the Olympics for years) kept on bothering me.
Also, the economics of the Olympics bothered me. Australia was clearly going all out in spending to host the games. For what, exactly?
I watched Athens 2004, in order to keep track of my favorite distance events; it was nice to see Kelly Holmes double in the 800m and 1500m, and Hicham El Guerrouj double in the 1500m and 5000m, for example.
Yet again, the American TV coverage was suspect. This time it was all about Michael Phelps. Meanwhile, Konstantinos Kenteris, the Greek favorite sprinter, disappeared before a drug test, and withdrew from the games.
Worse, the cost to Greece seemed significant. Construction projects were behind schedule, and could Greece really recoup worthwhile benefits from this extravagant expenditure of hosting the games?
Immediately after Athens, I decided that I was no longer going to follow the Olympics. So I did not watch Beijing 2008.
Well before Beijing 2008 actually occurred, I realized that the Olympics had become a bizarre, expensive embarrassment, an out-of-control commercial enterprise.
Marion Jones and a whole slew of other American sprinters had their Sydney 2000 medals stripped because of doping.
The hypocrisy of the games became clear to me, when considering what was really going on. Nations were going out of their way to make their athletes perform, at all costs; this happened in the Cold War era in the Eastern Bloc, of course, but more recently, witness Ma Junren’s “army” of Chinese distance runners that pulled out of Sydney 2000.
I’m tired of the doping, the media frenzy, the sponsorships, the consumerism, the bankrupting of local economies that the Olympics is all about. Everything has gotten more and more extreme.
The branding has gotten more forceful. The Olympic beast is ravenous.
I’ve been done with the Olympics since 2004, and I’m not coming back.