Now that we’re done arguing over whether NBC made the right decisions as to what it showed during prime time for the 30th Olympiad in modern times, I’d like to add my own postscripts as to my most memorable losers and winners before the countdown begins to the, no doubt, profligate opening ceremonies in 2016 at the Summer Games of Rio de Janeiro.
Before that losers-and-winners thing, let me just say that I can’t for the life of me figure out how hosting nations can justify the extravagant costs of producing those opening ceremonies that attempt to tell the entire history of a country in three or four hours at costs ranging from more than $100 million in Beijing in 2012 to, according to estimates, supposedly a bargain $42 million in London.
So, let’s get to it, my losers and winners. While some would say that there are no losers for all who get to drink deeply from the cup that is the Olympic experience, this year’s London gave me eight very clear-cut losers.
And, those losers come from the world of badminton, a sport in which I used to dominate in the backyard of my senior house rental at Miami University with a racquet in one hand and a can of beer in the other.
You’ll recall the eight badminton doubles players from South Korea, Indonesia and China who, in a preliminary phase of a round-robin format where a loss would not mean elimination but simply place their teams in a more desirable bracket in the next round, did such a poor job of throwing their matches that the crowd started booing and yelling, “Off, off, off,” as in “Off the court,” and officials noticed the ruse and stopped play.
Those involved were disqualified from the event, prompting Chinese star Yu Yang to retire from the sport, rendering a final message to her fans (back in my day hitting the old shuttlecock in Oxford in ’73, the only fan I had was a leggy blonde by the name of Michele, who was the object of my affection at the time).
Yu ended her retirement announcement with the words, “Farewell, my dear badminton.” Hmm, when I left the game after the stark reality hit that those administrators at Miami, sort of, expected me to leave after grabbing that diploma, I don’t recall being quite so emotional.
As for the whole sordid affair, I’m left with one question. How bad of a cheater do you have to be to get caught trying to lose? Instead of softly hitting shuttlecock after shuttlecock into the net, girls, next time, how about hitting the bird with the same pace you would hit it if you were really trying, except long or wide? Seems to me the subterfuge pretty much would go unnoticed then.
As for the winners, well, for me, that’s pretty easy to ascertain at this year’s games. It, of course, would be all those athletes who won gold and will turn that gold into bank-account gold.
The modern Olympic athlete is nothing at all like the Olympians of my 1960s youth, men and women who were only allowed private sponsorship to cover training costs and who would lose their amateur status and be banned from future Olympic competition if they ever were to have accepted any endorsement deals. Al Oerter comes to mind. The discus man is considered by some, with apologies to Michael Phelps, to be the greatest modern Olympian ever, winning gold in his event in four consecutive Summer Games in 1956, ’60, ’64 and ’68. Oerter broke his own Olympic mark each time, despite not once, winning the Olympic Trials. Had he been born later, he’d certainly have cashed in as today’s Olympic athlete now can after the International Olympic Committee eliminated the necessity of amateurism in 1971.
Now, athletes who win gold turn it into gold. According to the website Wallet Pop, US teenage gymnast Gabby Douglas will bank somewhere between $2 million to $4 million in endorsements, not total, mind you, but in EACH of the next four years leading up to Rio.
Swimmer Ryan Lochte, projected to earn about $6 million a year, already has secured endorsement deals with eight huge clients, among them Nissan, Ralph Lauren and AT&T.
Dash champion, Jamaican Usain Bolt, who already owns the absolute coolest and most apropos name for a fast guy ever, will also own about anything else he covets, perhaps even his own country, because he is projected to earn more than $40 million in endorsements.
Said Australian celebrity agent Max Markson, “Those 10 seconds [in the 100-meter dash] are worth about $2 million a second for the next 12 months easy.”
And, of course, let’s not forget Michael Phelps, who now gets to carry the coolest of acronyms, GOAT, as in the Olympic version of the Greatest of All Time. With an estimated worth of $40 million going into London before putting his first little piggy into the deep end, Phelps really had financial security forever.
Now, according to marketing expert Michael Maroon, the 28-year-old who has announced his retirement about four decades before he would ever have to listen to any old-fart jokes at some retirement party at the American Legion, has the potential to capture endorsement deals with companies who are nonathletic, something that can happen when an athlete is deemed likable. Think Peyton Manning, folks.
So there you have it, my losers and my winners and, of course, my own farewell to those Dear Olympics!