Because – duh – the Olympic Games always bring out the best and the worst sports have to offer. Not just in the athletes, but perhaps even more so in the public’s reaction to them.
Some recent examples. Two African American women won gold medals in events that used to be dominated by white athletes – gymnastics and tennis – but at home their victories were overshadowed by criticisms of the gymnast’s hair (!) and the tennis player’s brief celebratory dance. Yes, that’s right. All-around gold medal winner Gabby Douglas’ hair was a story, as was Serena Williams’ few seconds of unguarded happiness at the baseline of Wimbledon’s Centre Court after she defeated Maria Sharapova in the women’s tennis final.
As for Gabby Douglas, she is, unsurprisingly, far more mature than her critics. The AP reported last week (via The Grio):
The 16-year-old said Sunday she was a little confused when she logged onto her computer after winning her second gold medal in three days and discovered people were debating her pulled-back look.
“I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair?” said Douglas, the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in team and all-around competition. “I’m like, ‘I just made history and people are focused on my hair?’ It can be bald or short, it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.”
Yeah you did just make history, Gabby Douglas. Too bad your critics are living in the past.
And as for Serena Williams, the nonsensical controversy demonstrates how uncomfortable a good part of America is with Black success. From Huffington Post:
Serena Williams was so overjoyed after defeating Maria Sharapova in the Olympic singles and winning the gold that she broke into a Crip Walk dance.
“It was just me. I love to dance,” Williams told reporters who inquired about her Crip Walk. “I didn’t know what else to do. I was so happy, and next thing I know I started dancing and moving. I didn’t plan it. It just happened.”
“For the uninitiated, the Crip Walk is a funky little hip-hop dance move made famous by Crip gang members in Compton in the 1970s,” wrote Fox Sports’ Reid Forgrave, who went on to criticize Williams ….
Oh, please. So, forty odd years ago some gang members did a particular dance move, and now any African American who does it is … what? Promoting street gangs? Lauding gang culture? Being … too Black?
It’s a dance move, fer Chrissakes. I hear Al Capone was an opera fan. So, naturally, any Italian American who likes opera is … Jesus, these racial and ethnic stereotypes are really confounding.
Actually, if you want to criticize an Olympic athlete for questionable sportsmanship, how about British triathlete Alistair Brownlee, who won the men’s race Tuesday with 11 seconds to spare:
It could have been a larger distance from first to second, but Brownlee grabbed a British flag and draped it on his back down the stretch. He walked the last few steps with a huge grin and finished with a time of 1:46:25.
Wait, what? Who stops (or slows down) to grab a flag and then walks across the finish line in an Olympic race? Seriously. Who does that?
Apart from the fact that Brownlee was celebrating victory before he actually achieved it – which is pretty crass, really – he walked across the finish line. In the Olympic triathlon.
Good lord, man. Why would you not want to finish the race in the fastest possible time? That’s the first lesson of marathons and triathlons: You’re not just running against the other athletes; you’re running against yourself.
Of course, there was no media controversy after Brownlee’s premature flag-draping and walking across the finish line (in an Olympic race! – I still can’t get over that), but it’s not like he did anything, you know, Black.
On the other hand, the Olympics also give us moments like this:
That’s Grenadian runner Kirani James exchanging bibs with South African runner – and double-amputee – Oscar Pistorius after Pistorius failed to qualify for the 400 meter final last Sunday:
Most athletes would not have a smile on their face after finishing last in an Olympic semi-final, but then Oscar Pistorius is no ordinary athlete. The South African made history on Saturday by becoming the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics and on Sunday night was attempting to break another record by reaching the final of the men’s 400m.
It was not to be, however. In an intimidatingly strong field, Pistorius, nicknamed the Blade Runner, was never really in with a shout. The 25-year-old, who fought a long battle for the right to enter the Games, finished in 46.54sec, the only disappointment being that he had run 45.44 in his heat on Saturday.
Pistorius’ success (not only making the Olympics but winning his initial heat) is one of the great stories to come out of this year’s Olympics, but so was that simple gesture by Kirani James. The 19-year old James went on to win the gold medal in the 400 in 43.94 seconds, which is astounding in its own right; but that moment when he walked up to Pistorius after the semis and asked to exchange bibs – that said more about Olympic values than any physical triumph ever could.
And did I mention Kirani James is only 19 years old? Nineteen. What were you doing at that age? As for me, I shudder to think.
But, so, anyway, there you go. While the media and the public obsess over a gymnast’s hairstyle and hyperventilate over a tennis player’s dance moves – while ignoring an odder and more questionable finish to the men’s triathlon – a 19 year old from Grenada and a double-amputee from South Africa kind of made the whole thing worth watching.
[Cross-posted at my running blog, Running … From Chicago.]