Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on Pinterest

 

By BERNARD FERNANDEZ

               Truth be told, a shadow has been enveloping the Olympic movement for at least 50 years. The pall might have begun to descend even earlier than that; one of history’s most evil men, German chancellor Adolf Hitler, sought and procured the 1936 Berlin Olympics with the goal of using it as a showcase for the Aryan “master race” he believed his nation was in the process of creating. That fallacy was disproved by a black American sprinter and long jumper, Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals during that Olympiad and again, on June 22, 1938, by a black American heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, who knocked out Germany’s Max Schmeling in one round in Yankee Stadium to avenge a shocking, 12th-round KO loss to Schmeling two years earlier.

The Olympic Charter, last revised on Sept. 9, 2013, is a 5-chapter, 61-article codification of the goals and bylaws of the International Olympic Committee. It defines Olympism as a “philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

Every four years – or every two years, given the time now separating the Summer and Winter Olympics – the world at large allows itself to believe, for 16 days of athletic competition, that those noble ideals are still the primary reason that the imperious IOC continues to exist. But like the Wizard of Oz, operating behind a curtain of secrecy, the organization headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, frequently does not rise to the level of the spectacular feats of such Olympic heroes as Owens and, in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics which ended on Aug. 21, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, U.S. gymnast Simone Biles and American swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky. The Olympic movement as presently constituted is increasingly about power, privilege and, perhaps most of all, money. Lots and lots of money.

“As long as there’s a cheery picture to present to millions of people, especially in America, it’ll continue,” Teddy Atlas, the analyst for NBC’s coverage of Olympic boxing for four Olympiads (2000 in Sydney, 2004 in Athens, 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London) told me when asked if the day might come when there no longer will be an acceptable reason to stage Olympiads. “People love good stories and happy endings. As long as you have a Michael Phelps and the (U.S. women’s) gymnasts with gold medals around their necks – and those are good stories – a lot can be and is overlooked. A blind eye is turned. But it’s getting harder and harder to forget about the bad stuff, the corruption and the manipulation and the politics. The Olympics are supposed to be an escape from that. We have enough of that in government.

“When the Olympics are no longer an escape, enough to continue to blind us to what the Olympic movement is meant to be but isn’t, then there will be no more Olympics.”

Atlas’ harsh view might be described as that of an embittered former employee whose withering criticism of what he saw from ringside during those four Olympic fortnights eventually put him at loggerheads with the IOC, AIBA (the International Boxing Association, governing body for Olympic boxing) and, perhaps most significantly, his bosses at NBCUniversal. It is not unreasonable to infer that the Peacock network’s multibillion-dollar investment in Olympic programming might result in directives to on-air personnel to tilt more toward accentuation of the positive at the expense of objective reporting.

Boxing, of course, is a subset of a subset, just one of 28 Olympic sports which were contested in Rio. For those who might not totally buy into what Atlas – who, as always, is unapologetically blunt – is pitching, consider a respected voice from beyond the grave who foresaw the direction the sport, at least as it pertained to the United States’ involvement in the Olympics, was headed.

Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who was 68 when he passed away on Oct. 25, 2012, was named USA Boxing’s director of coaching in 2002. He served only one year in that mostly ornamental capacity, resigning in disillusionment by what he perceived to be the subversion of a dream he and so many others once held dear.

“There are a lot of us who are not digging the system at all,” Steward said in April 2002, shortly after he stepped down. “Before he left office, Gary (Toney, the former USA Boxing president) told me he was prepared to pull America out of the (f——) Olympics.

“Are we prepared to just walk away? I don’t know. I do know that Olympic boxing is not what it used to be, and nobody in America is in agreement on what they want to do. To me, it’s been steadily declining since 1988. I don’t even have my amateur kids today pointing toward the Olympics. When I started coaching in 1961, that was everyone’s dream. It was my dream to make the Olympic team in 1964. Your first thought was trying to go to the Olympics, then you worried about turning pro afterward.”

Given current realities, the concept of “simon-pure amateurism,” as espoused by Pierre de Coubertin, is as rapidly disappearing from the Olympic movement as the number of, say, endangered tigers in the wild. An aristocratic French educator and historian who was the founder of the IOC in the late 19th century, de Coubertin is widely considered the “father” of the modern Olympics, first held in Paris in 1896. He believed that the Olympics periodically staged in ancient Greece encouraged competition among amateur rather than professional athletes, and that the Games could play a role in promoting peace. Toward that end, he was unwavering in his perhaps naïve position that the competition itself, the struggle to overcome opponents of different nationalities and cultures, was more important than winning. “The essential thing,” he wrote, “is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.”

De Coubertin was 74 when he died in 1937, old enough to have witnessed, sadly, Hitler employ those 1936 Berlin Olympics as a metaphor for war, and a precursor of the second global conflict the Nazi dictator would soon instigate. And if that alone weren’t enough to keep de Courbetin forever spinning in his grave, then the widespread boycotting of two Olympiads (Moscow in 1980 by the U.S. and several of its allies in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and Los Angeles in 1984 by the USSR, Cuba and a number of Eastern Bloc nations in retaliation for the U.S.-led boycott four years earlier), hate-inspired murder (of 11 Israeli athletes by Black September terrorists in Munich in 1972), proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs among participants and official endorsement of pro involvement by profit-aware IOC officials surely would.

As exemplified in Rio – and, really, there can be no turning back now – the Olympics are increasingly about the boosting of nationalistic pride brought about by high medal counts (the U.S. again blitzed the field, with 121 total medals [46 gold] to 70 for runner-up China) and the influence that can be purchased by countries amenable to feathering the IOC’s well-appointed nest. The dye was permanently cast in 1992 with the incredible popularity of the NBA-superstar-laden American “Dream Team” that crushed all comers in winning the men’s basketball gold medal in Barcelona. Just like that, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and friends nudged de Courbetin’s quaint notion of fraternity and brotherhood through unsullied amateur sport into the dusty annals of what used to be but ain’t no more. If the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics were to be held in the post-“Dream Team” era, there could be no “Miracle on Ice” triumph by a group of U.S. collegiate hockey players, on the way to one of the most stunning gold medals in Olympic history, over a veteran and seemingly invincible Soviet squad; the American team would instead be stocked with NHL standouts.

Oh, sure, the notion of would-be Olympians training on their own time and dime, driven by a desire to represent their country for altruistic reasons and not necessarily for personal profit, hasn’t died out completely. There are still college kids and budget-conscious plain folk who receive few if any subsidies to pursue their Olympic dreams, but there is and always will be a divide between competitors in lower-interest events such as badminton, archery, fencing and trapshooting and those competing in big-ticket sports such as basketball, golf, tennis, soccer, ice hockey, swimming and track and field. What, you say that swimming, which commands a sizable chunk of prime-time exposure on NBC, doesn’t have a professional league? True, but the United States Olympic Committee provides its finest hopefuls with generous stipends, and endorsements can bring in millions of dollars more to the best of the best. Phelps, he of the record 28 Olympic medals, including 23 golds, plunked down $2.5 million the day after the Rio Olympics ended to take title to the palatial house he will share with his fiancée and infant son. Given the 31-year-old’s incredible body of work in the five Olympiads in which he participated, few would object to his rewarding himself with digs spacious enough to showcase his medal collection.

The roughly 90 members of the IOC’s international hierarchy, more than a few of whom are titled royalty and have had their place at the Olympic table passed on by their forebears, are acutely aware of the benefits attendant to the selective wielding of influence. After being rejected four times on previous bids to host the Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City in 1995 was tapped as the site of the 2002 Games. It later was proven that, to seal the deal, bribes were offered to and accepted by several IOC voters to cast favorable ballots for the Utah city.

Although such obvious malfeasance cannot be substantiated in other instances, eyebrows were raised when Sochi, Russia, was chosen to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, even though Sochi, located along the shores of the Black Sea, is a resort town with a subtropical climate and mild winters (meaning a lack of natural snow). But Russian president Vladimir Putin wanted those Games, perhaps to bolster his image with his countrymen, and he was willing to put up the rubles to make it happen. The Sochi Olympics cost a staggering $51 billion, making it far and away the most expensive Olympiad ever, with a not insignificant part of that going for equipment to produce vast amounts of artificial snow.

Amazingly, all things considered, the 2018 Winter Olympics were awarded to PyeongChang, South Korea, which also has minimal snow in mid-February. The projected cost for those Games has been optimistically pegged at $13 billion, but expect major budgetary overruns, and the use of the same fake-snow-producing machines that gave Sochi that white, winter-wonderland sheen.

Almost without exception, since the red-ink-drenched 1976 Montreal Olympics, host cities have been bankrupted for the privilege of shining on the world stage for those two weeks. And when the Games end, costly Olympic Villages, stadiums and venues, some never to be used again, are left abandoned, decaying with the passage of time like the bleached bones of long-extinct dinosaurs.

The familiar tale was again played out in Rio, which erupted with civic pride at the 2009 announcement that, seven years later, the Brazilian city would become the first South American host of the Olympics. The IOC brass promised that Rio would emerge from the process better in every way, but thousands of people in local favelas, or slums, were forcibly evicted to make way for the gleaming edifices that would house the various Olympic events. There also was a guarantee that Rio’s water problem, which literally involved raw sewage emptying into waterways that would serve as venues for several aquatic competitions, would be cleaned up to near-pristine levels. It didn’t happen.

But, despite mounting evidence that still another Olympics had produced as many nagging question marks as exhilarating exclamation points, other cities are lining up to bid for the right to be branded with the familiar and incredibly expensive five-ring symbol. Paris, Rome, Budapest and Los Angeles all had representatives in Rio to curry favor with IOC bigwigs responsible for selecting the host site for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which will be awarded next year. If there’s one certainty, it’s that at least some of those bigwigs will be fawned over and lavishly complimented by the aforementioned suitors, willingly cast in the role of bespectacled math geeks asking the prettiest but most demanding girl in school to be their date for the prom.

Back to boxing. For AIBA, which has its own soiled past, the tearing down of traditional barriers to allow pros into the Olympic ring in Rio was a long time coming, and probably inevitable. The former president of AIBA, the late Dr. Anwar Chowdhry of Pakistan, had floated the idea of welcoming pros during his tumultuous 25-year reign, but it never gained the necessary traction, and it still hadn’t when he finally was voted out of office in 2006 and replaced by Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu of Chinese Tapei, who promised sweeping reforms. Chowdhry had come to regard AIBA as his personal fiefdom and ATM, and tales of widespread corruption, including the sale of gold medals, during his tenure hung in the air like toxic smog. Prior to the 2006 AIBA election in which Chowdhry was ousted, a pro-Chowdhry Russian delegate is said to have brought in outsiders who were members of the “Russian Mafia” to intimidate other delegates into voting for the incumbent. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but one pro-change delegate was found murdered. If that didn’t scare the hell out of the electorate, nothing could.

“If I had lost, boxing is out of the 2012 Olympics, maybe even out of the 2008 Olympics,” Wu, who edged Chowdhry in that 2006 election by an 83-79 margin, told me during the November 2014 AIBA Congress in Jehu, South Korea. Confirming that possible gloom-and-doom scenario was USA Boxing interim executive director Mike Martino, who, at that same AIBA Congress, noted that “I’ve been hearing for the last three Olympics that we (boxing) might be on the chopping block.”

Wu at least succeeded in one area where Chowdhry had failed; he also championed the introduction of pros into Olympic boxing, and toward that end he initiated the World Series of Boxing and AIBA Pro Boxing, in which elite fighters could maintain their Olympic eligibility and also get paid. It was a concept embraced by numerous nations, with the chief pocket of resistance predictably coming from powerhouse American promotional companies that objected to certain restrictions of movement placed upon AIBA-signed boxers.

The fear in some quarters in the U.S. was that experienced pros, possibly competing against American amateurs still in their teens or early 20s, would overmatch our kids. It was a legitimate concern; after the 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing team scored a record haul of 11 medals (nine golds, a silver and a bronze) against a boycott-thinned field, it has been a case of diminishing returns for the country which introduced such future greats as Muhammad Ali (still known then as Cassius Clay), Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya to the world with their gold-medal performances. U.S. men managed just two medals (one gold, for Andre Ward) in 2004, one (a bronze, for Deontay Wilder) in 2008 and none at all in 2012, something that had never happened before. Another embarrassing shutout for American men was predicted by Sports Illustrated in its pre-Olympic issue.

But not all went as anticipated. For one thing, the three pros that competed in Rio – Cameroon’s Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam, Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng and Italy’s Carmine Tommasone, all of whom are at least 30 years of age and who arrived with a combined record of 66-3 (29 KOs) – failed to even make it to the medal rounds. For another, Shakur Stevenson, the 19-year-old bantamweight from Newark, N.J., impressed by taking a silver medal in a 2-1, split-decision loss to defending Olympic champion Robeisy Ramirez of Cuba, while 20-year-old lightweight Nico Hernandez, of Wichita, Kan., went home with a bronze. It might seem like a skimpy haul compared to Uzbekistan, which garnered seven medals (three golds) and Cuba (six medals, three golds), but it at least provided something to build on. Oh, and 21-year-old Claressa Shields, of  Flint, Mich., lived up to her status as the favorite in the women’s middleweight division by taking a second straight gold medal.

Still, you have to wonder if, with the burgeoning number of pros that figure to be involved in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, USA Boxing will be able to continue pinning its hopes on talented but relatively inexperienced amateurs. Change did come to Olympic boxing in Rio, which not only included those cameo appearances by pros but also the removal of headgear on the men’s side and computer-generated selection of the three judges (of five at ringside) scoring on a pro-style 10-point-must system, which replaced the widely despised electronic scoring which turned bouts into Xbox video games. Other things, however, remained disturbingly the same, namely several head-scratching decisions that raised standard questions as to whether those outcomes were more the result of bias or incompetence than to what actually transpired inside the ropes.

Foremost among the dubious verdicts was the gold-medal heavyweight bout, in which Kazakhstan’s Vassiliy Levit appeared to be a clear winner over Russia’s No. 1 seed and reigning world champion Evgeny Tischenko. When the decision for Tischenko was met with loud booing from spectators in Riocentro Pavilion 6, some noted the presence at ringside of IOC president Thomas Bach of Germany alongside someone he has described as his “good friend,” the $51 billion architect of the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russian president Vladimir Putin. Neither appeared distressed at the apparent injustice. Make of that what you will, along with the fact that, of the original entry list of 389 Russian athletes for Rio, 271, including all 11 boxers, were cleared to compete by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Despite the fact that the entire Russian track and field team (68 athletes), 17 rowers and eight weightlifters were banned from competing, there was more than a little grumbling in other countries that 70 percent of the Russian delegation passing performance-enhancing-drugs muster was overly generous, given incontrovertible proof that virtually every Russian athlete competing in Sochi had benefited from the administering of state-sanctioned PEDs.

A smidgeon less egregious than the shafting of Levit was the hotly disputed, medal-eliminating points loss of top-seeded bantamweight Michael Conlan of Ireland (pictured) to eventual bronze medalist Vladimir Tikitin of Russia, which came the morning after Levit graciously accepted his Olympic heartbreak. All three scoring judges went for Nikitin, which prompted an irate Conlan to rip off his shirt in the ring and flash a pair of obscene one-finger salutes to the offending officials. During a post-fight press conference with an Irish broadcaster, RTE Sport, Conlan spewed expletives and accusations, calling everyone involved with AIBA “cheating bastards. They’re paying everybody. They’ve always been cheats. It’s a shambles, to be honest. Today just showed how corrupt this organization is.”

On Aug. 17, AIBA, in what was widely seen to be in damage-control mode, acknowledged the raft of wacko decisions (two of which involved U.S. boxers, light welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell and women’s lightweight Mikaela Mayer) by four referees and judges and, a day later, reassigning executive director Karim Bouzidi and replacing him with Italy’s Franco Falcinelli, president of the European Boxing Confederation and the most senior vice president of AIBA’s executive board.

“The Olympic Games, of which boxing has been a part since 1904, represent the pinnacle of all sports,” a statement issued by AIBA read. “Since the beginning of Rio, 2016, AIBA has conducted over 250 bouts and remains fully committed to fair play in boxing, always seeking to act in the boxers’ best interests. The decisions taken emphasize that AIBA will not shy away from its responsibilities and will continue to ensure a level playing field and a fair and transparent sport. It is of paramount importance to protect our sport and its R&J (referees and judges) community whose integrity has been put into question.”

One U.S. reporter, ESPN’s Steve Bunce, opined that Levit was the victim of the most outrageous call since Roy Jones Jr. beat the hell out of his South Korean opponent, Park Si-Hun, in the 156-pound gold medal bout in Seoul in 1988, only to be stunned when a 3-2 verdict was announced for the home-country fighter. But was justice truly served by the suspensions of the Rio Five? Although the U.S., with ample justification, filed a protest on Jones’ behalf 28 years ago, it was not upheld and the three officials who voted for Si-Hun, although suspended, were quietly reinstated six months later. And despite AIBA’s preemptive strike to quell the furor in Rio, its official stance was that its officials had done nothing unethical. In any case, a rule had been instituted beforehand that no protests could be filed and thus no seemingly unjust outcomes overturned.

“With regard to corruption, we would like to strongly restate that unless tangible proof is put forward, not rumors, we will continue to use any means, including legal or disciplinary actions, to protect our sport and its R&J community, whose integrity is constantly put into question,” the statement continued. “The organization will not be deterred by subjective judgments made by discontented parties.”

Translation: the banished officials will be back in AIBA’s good graces sometime in the not-too-distant future, and likely without a public announcement to that effect.

Atlas, Olympic boxing’s most persistent and vocal critic, admits to not having watched a single round of the action from Rio. Then again, he said he didn’t have to. Reports of the latest mess requiring cleanup were as predictable to him as morning sunrise. He also foresees the day when the IOC, weary of the never-ending drama involving boxing, simply decides to excise that area of malignancy.

“They are going to surgically remove certain sports,” Atlas predicted. “They will get rid of boxing, to stop all the noise. I really believe that.”

Atlas noted that he and NBC broadcast partner Bob Papa (who was reassigned to rugby in Rio) became aware prior to the London Olympics of a British Broadcast Company report the previous September that alleged someone from Azerbaijan, an oil- and mineral-rich former satellite country of the old Soviet Union, was prepared to pay millions of dollars to “buy” two Olympic gold medals in boxing.

The BBC report found documents showing a $9 million bank transfer, funneled through Switzerland, to a boxing organization owned by AIBA. Talk about your smoking gun …

“The story was never properly refuted,” Atlas explained. “There were a lot of lingering questions. What that told me was that Bob and I had to be alert. Our first night, I mentioned the story in a journalistically responsible fashion. A lot of people would have stayed away from it, I know that, but I thought it would be irresponsible to say away from it. So I said, `Look, this is out there, I’m not pointing fingers. All I’m saying is I’m aware and now you’re aware. Let the Games begin.’ And the Games began.”

They began with what Atlas said were “bad decisions. I mean, really bad decisions. I watched this guy from Japan (Satoshi Shimisu) knock down a guy from Azerbaijan (Magomed Abdulhamidev)  seven times and the Azerbaijan guy’s point total kept going up! Bob and I were, like, `Can they really be this arrogant? This cold, this uncaring? Don’t these people have any sense of right and wrong, that they can do this in front of the whole world?”

The outcry over the 22-17 computer-scored decision for Abdulhamidev was so intense that, in a rarity that can’t be repeated given the no-protest rule now in place, AIBA reversed itself and upheld Japan’s protest, giving Shimisu the victory he so obviously deserved. Curiously, less than two years after USA Boxing hired acclaimed former Cuba Olympic coach Pedro Roque Otano — he of the 35 Olympic medals, including 11 golds — in September 2012, he resigned to accept a better-paying position (drum roll, please) as the coach of Azerbaijan’s national team. Roque Otano’s team departed Rio with one silver and one bronze, the same as the U.S.

Atlas was not surprised to learn that no Olympic boxing was televised on over-the-air NBC, which accounts for around 90 percent of its total Olympic viewership. All the fights, including the gold-medal ones involving Shields and Stevenson, were on secondary outlets. He said NBC was attempting to “hide” Olympic boxing, and that (AIBA is) the most corrupt organization I’ve ever seen, and that’s a very powerful statement coming from me because I’ve been in this business 40 years and seen a lot of bad stuff.”

All of which begs a question: why did Atlas remain as NBC’s color analyst through four Olympiads if what he had to wade through each time, as many as 278 bouts in a two-week period, was so objectionable?

“I got paid very well, but the honeymoon wore off,” he responded. “The first one (in Sydney, Australia), I was, like, `Wow. They must think I’m very good at this.’ If you get asked to do the Olympics, it’s supposed to be a big honor. So I was glad to do it. Then I saw what it was. It’s a marathon. By the time I got to the fourth one, I was done. I only did it because of Ebersol.”

That would be Dick Ebersol, the former head of the NBC Sports Group and a man Atlas trusts implicitly, which is a club with few members. But Ebersol was gone, replaced for London by Mark Lazarus, which was the Olympics when Atlas saw what he saw and expressed it with no-doubt-about-it indignation, so much so that Wu called for Papa and him to be removed from ringside for the medal round bouts. They were given the choice of returning home immediately or calling those last few fights from a cramped studio Atlas described as “a closet.”

“The new guy said (NBC) was standing behind me and that I was right to say what I had been saying,” Atlas said. “I said, `OK, I’ll finish the job. But I want something in return. Dick Ebersol hired me in 2000.We have a good relationship and I trust him. I have no idea if I can trust you.’

“He was a little taken aback by me saying that. I said, `But I know how to find out if I can trust you. I want your word, if I go into the studio and finish calling the fights, that before NBC ever broadcasts another Olympic boxing match that you will help me do something about this corruption. We can actually help these fighters that are being robbed one after another. They’re falling on the canvas crying when their dreams are crushed. I’m tired of seeing it.

“This is what I want. I want you to go to the IOC – you pay a lot of money to them and they’ll listen to you – and demand that they conduct a full investigation of AIBA before you ever do another Olympic boxing match. If you give me your word that you will do that, then you can march me into that tiny closet for the last two days and I’ll call those fights.’ He put his hand out, we shook and he said, `You have my word.’”

A month or so later, Atlas said he received a telephone call from someone “somebody pretty high up” at NBC and was confidentially told, `He’s not going to keep his word.’ I wasn’t shocked, but I was disappointed.”

Lazarus was not available for comment, but Christopher McCloskey, vice president of Communications for the NBC Sports Group, responded to Atlas’ charges with an email that read, in part, “We met with AIBA and the IOC in Lausanne after London and reviewed the London tournament. AIBA took us through their plans to reform.”

Now, about all that money that NBC pays to remain the network of the Olympics: in May, NBC Universal shelled out $7.75 billion for the exclusive broadcast rights to the six Olympiads from 2022 to 2032. That is a continuation of an association that began in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain, with two other Olympic rights packages prior to the most recent deal totaling $7.88 billion.

In an Aug. 13 conference call with reporters about Olympic TV viewership, Lazarus dismissed double-digit ratings drops from London by saying “This will be our most economically successful Games in history,” and he defended the network’s decision to “create our storytelling and our narrative,” even if it meant holding events that could have been shown live in the afternoon for delayed prime-time slots.

But despite the Olympics’ warts and blemishes, including those of the Quasimodo that is AIBA, Atlas is indisputably right about one thing. The wondrous feats of a Phelps, a Ledecky, a Bolt, a Biles, the powerhouse U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams, and even the occasional epic failures of those who for whatever reason are blinded by the glare of a global spotlight, can’t help but hold our attention. The Olympics are like a bacon double cheeseburger and ice cream sundae to dieters who can’t resist gorging on a quadrennial treat that is irresistible if solely for the fact that it comes along only so often. That, or we simply are suckers for unvarnished sentiment served up with a side order of patriotic pride.

“If I could re-live anything, I would want to re-live that moment when I was on the medal stand,” Sugar Ray Leonard, one of five gold medalists from the legendary 1976 U.S. Olympic boxing team in Montreal, said prior to a 40-year reunion with his surviving teammates in June, at the International Boxing Hall of Fame induction weekend in Canastota, N.Y. “Those Olympics were the best time of my life; I was young and everything seemed so exciting.”

A lot of us aren’t so young anymore, but far more cynical. Once we sought perfection in an imperfect world, hoping to glimpse it in an Olympic swimming pool, on the track or in the ring. Maybe it was never there in its entirety, only bits and pieces to fill in the gaps of our wildest imagination of what human beings are capable of doing.

Until something better or fairer comes along, that just might have to suffice.

Facebook Comments