Metalliokomis... or, "It's the Almighty Buck, stupid!"

Flags waving, national hymns being sung… even some tears emotionally shed as the gold, silver and bronze symbolic medals are passed to the new victors, this time their heads adorned with the laurel wreaths of millennia past. This spectacle of triumph brings us closer to these achievers, and in turn to all humankind. How idealistic… how lofty… and how unreal!

The white flag harboring five circles prominently flies in all the venues that house the Olympic Games, but beyond the “visual pretend” represented by that flag is the true adherence of the competitors… to an ideology… to a nation… to themselves. The latter being by far what truly prevails, for “professional olympism” is, and has been for a long time, nothing but a career for most of these Olympians.

A reality check will tell us, assuming we care to know, that to find national pride in the medal count ranges from unjust to absurd… at least for the larger and wealthier nations, such as the United States . During the Sydney Olympiads, the US competitors’ harvest of medals resulted in one medal for every 3 million Americans and $80 billion in GDP. Those accomplishments would seem rather poor when compared to those attained by other competitors, such as those from the quintet of Caribbean nations (Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago) that averaged one medal for every ½ million Caribbean and $1 billion in GDP. Should these Antilleans brag that they are 6 to 80 times “better” than us? Absurd, one would rightly say; yet, when we engage in this “metalliokomis” with pseudo-patriotism, we end up drinking from the same well.

It is one thing for a small, poor nation to celebrate the feats of a countryman becoming an athlete laureate, particularly when that individual has not been highly subsidized; and another, to pay homage and give adulation to members of questionable “dream teams.” But in this world of me-first and screw-thy-neighbor, a moralistic attitude is not only archaic, but one not geared to what we have come to consider as success, monetary success. After all, fame in the form of medals translates into fortune… via speaking engagements, product endorsements or continued government subsidies by whatever name. To the motto for the Olympics of “Faster, Higher, Stronger” we must now add “Business Wiser.”

As the Games in Athens wind up, the medal count by nation is not likely to change much from those in past Olympiads; and playing to political ideologies, or excessive national pride, takes us farther and farther away from what Pierre de Coubertin intended when he revived the Olympic Games in 1896: better international understanding through athletics.

Perhaps while in Athens , we should ask for a miracle from the Greek pagan gods, and bring to life the mythical Aesop. We could then beg this fantastic raconteur to recite a fable or two for this year’s participants in the Games; stories that, just like other fables of the past, would have a moral sufficiently powerful to counter the amorality that goes hand-in-hand with fame and/or money.

There are probably scores of athletes among the ten-thousand who have come to the Games, whose participation comes after considerable personal sacrifice, particularly those who represent sports lacking commercial attractiveness. Our hat is off to them. Olympians are, nonetheless, but a cross-section of all of us. What we are and how we are. Perhaps we do expect heroic acts from these gifted-people, but it seems unfair that we place demands in areas beyond their skills. Outside of their field of expertise we should only expect they do the right thing. No heroics, just the right thing!

But a simple “right thing” is exactly what a dedicated gymnast, athlete laureate, failed to do this past week… immediately, without any prodding from advisers, press or peers. And it saddened me, realizing that the Almighty Buck still reigns supreme.