Thursday, August 21, 2008


Will someone (as my title may suggest, I think Aretha Franklin would be a good candidate) please tell Jacques Rogge to shut up before he adds to the damage he has already done? This is the man who led the International Olympic Committee down a garden path of unfulfilled promises by the Chinese government, never raising a fuss in the name of "silent diplomacy." So when he does decide to raise a fuss, his target is not the People's Republic of China (say, for the hazardous conditions under which all Olympic athletes have had to perform); rather, it is Usain Bolt for his exuberant expressions of victory. Furthermore, Rogge has decided to attack Bolt not for that exuberance being "irrational" (to borrow an adjective from Alan Greenspan) but for being disrespectful. Fortunately, Associated Press reporter Karolos Grohmann managed to come up with a quote from Rogge that gives us some sense of the workings of Rogge's mind:

Bolt must be considered now the same way like Jesse Owens should have been in the ’30s.

The operative word here is "should." I am not suggesting that Bolt decided to strut his stuff to get even with Adolf Hitler's treatment (or non-treatment, if you prefer) of Jesse Owens during the Berlin Olympics. I merely wish to point out that the International Olympic Committee has a long-standing history of condoning bad behavior against the athletes, speaking out only when the behavior is by the athletes.

One of the reasons I do not watch any sports any more is that I have grown very weary of watching adults who should know better than to outdo each other with childish behavior. However, I have never suggested that everyone else should avoid such spectacles, just because I have no taste for them. I can even understand why the athletes do what they do: Many of them have achieved something that they have been dreaming of since they were kids. So it almost makes sense that, when they finally get there, they should react the way they would have done when the dream was first conceived.

So perhaps someone ought to tell Bolt that it is time to think about growing up a bit; but Rogge is not the right person to do that (even if he is a former Olympian himself). When the BBC ran a story about Rogge's reaction this morning, they cited Muhammad Ali as the ne plus ultra example of shameless self-promotion in victory; and they pointed out that, in terms of character, Ali is well remembered today. If his capacity for speech has not been totally debilitated, I could see Ali sitting down with Bolt and saying, "Look, son, I know how you feel. You have every right to feel good right now, but you have become someone special. As a special person, you need to start thinking about what folks will think of you a few months from now, when televisions are no longer showing what a great runner you are." He would probably leave it at that; and, if Bolt was too giddy to pay attention when he said it, chances are his memory would refresh him in the due course of time!

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