Whose triumph?

To whom does an athlete, a star no less, belong, when both selfless and opportunistic people hope to bask in his glory? Does he belong to himself and his ambitions? Does he belong to his team and his association, and by extension to the various officials who eye to steal some of his triumph? Does he belong to his coach and the whole entourage of doctors, dietitians and crude drug dealers? Or does he belong to the country and its people, who identify themselves with the winner, having been taught from childhood that one is first or not at all. To whom an athlete belongs depends on his performance. If he is first, then he is ours; a symbol that gets us so intoxicated that we barely question whether his success is a result of natural vigor or banned chemistry. Such symbols are badly needed by the sports industry, the sponsors, and the State, which is always keen to translate medals, one medal, as evidence of racial superiority. But when it comes to an uncelebrated athlete, no one will share his joy for capturing 20th place or shed a tear should he fail a doping test. No one had ever heard of James Brack or Derek Nicholson, the Greek-American baseballers who tested positive for banned substances; no one had time to identify with them or feel sorry for their ejection. In the case of Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, things are completely different for the two sprinters were honored as symbols of a new beginning in Greek athletics, concerned though we were that the spring was an artificial one and its symbols a sham. The recent scandal was a big letdown that tarnished the official mantra that the Olympics’ homecoming would bring their purification. Moral issues of that magnitude can’t be solved with the spineless response of the Hellenic Olympic Committee or the politicians’ I-wash-my-hands reaction. We must not only appear honest when playing hide-and-seek with our dignity, but be honest.

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