Immortal, ancient spirit

Reading about today’s bionic athletes, ultramodern training techniques, expensive technologies and sports equipment makes one ponder on the significance and the value of victory in major sports events. When I started watching track events as a child, pole-vaulters used poles made of bamboo. They would jump about 4.50 meters. Then came aluminum poles and the average performance increased by another meter. Today, athletes use poles made of plexiglass and are able to jump more than six meters. Therefore, what comparison can be made between accomplishments in the 1950s and those of today? And, furthermore, on what grounds, and how fair is it, to sideline the genuine champions of previous decades and remove them from the tables that list the world or national records achieved by the current combinations of biomedicine and technology? When the Olympic training of a super-athlete costs millions of dollars, any talk about «noble emulation,» «fair competition,» or «pure ideals» immediately becomes redundant. The spirit of sport was first undermined when victory was portrayed as proof of the superiority of social or political systems. Doping, that is, the systematic use of performance-enhancing drugs, was a product of this tendency which thrived in the former communist countries. The transformation of major sports events into commodities and the huge revenues from commercials which are at stake during the Games, have intensified this plague which has now escaped all control. The Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City also highlight the problem of bionic super-athletes and the very expensive high-tech support used in the conquest of precious victory. This problem will come to the fore in view of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, as doping comes under scrutiny. We chose the olive branch wreath as a symbol of «our» Games, though the winners will be crowned with a diamond tiara. We will praise the «immortal ancient spirit, the pure ancestor of the beautiful, the great and the true.» I am afraid that when the Olympic flame ignites in our Olympic Stadium on the night of August 13, 2004, the ancient spirit will not be beautiful or great or true. Let’s hope that it will not prove fatally mortal, buried in the place which gave birth to it. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit exchanged letters last week with Saddam, urging him to allow UN inspectors to return to the country or face «serious consequences.»

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