Medals and misdeeds at the Winter Olympics

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The opening of the Winter Olympics took place in Beijing, China. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fewer and fewer people have been watching the Olympics, and it’s not hard to see why. Between the money-grabbing broadcasters, drug scandals and controversies in China — for these games in particular — the Olympics are on a downward spiral, and not just on the slalom. What was once meant to be a celebration of global athletic achievements has morphed into a scheme for money and glory at any cost. 

While the original Olympics took place in Ancient Greece as a way to honor the gods, they were eventually banned by the Romans around 400 AD. It wasn’t until 1896 that the modern Olympics were introduced and began competitions first in Athens and then everywhere around the world. 

Despite having been disbanded for centuries, the modern Olympics were meant to revive the healthy competition and fraternity that had prospered in the early Olympics. Pierre de Coubertin, who originally proposed that the Olympics be revived into a modern setting, described the games as a global movement that “all people must be allowed in, without debate.” 

Coubertin believed that there was no better way to “bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials” than the Olympics. He hoped that in reviving them, they could be used to “strengthen peace” among the participating nations.

Over the years, the modern Olympics have fallen away from these ideals. Even just watching the Olympics has become difficult as viewers are forced to jump through hoops in order to see their favorite events. 

The monopoly over broadcasting the Olympics has given way to streaming services that care more for gaining more customers than they do about the actual services they’re providing. 

While there are a select few TV channels that have been streaming the Olympics, their coverage is questionable at best, making it difficult to watch events. Networks like NBC post short clips on YouTube of stand-out performances and athletes, but make it difficult to watch the full events. 

Instead, viewers are required to create accounts with streaming services. Money has become more important than the patriotism or fraternity that has long been the focus of the Olympics.

In addition, the athletes are often put under a ridiculous amount of stress. Athletes as young as fourteen or fifteen are pressured to excel from countries that care more for a medal than they do the persons competing. With this has arisen increasing drug scandals, with countries like Russia as repeat offenders. 

The Olympics has become an excuse for countries to coerce their athletes — especially the young and vulnerable — into situations that have the potential to ruin their career or lives, simply for the sake of winning a gold medal. 

Young athletes are put at risk simply for gold medals and the accompanying glory. The Olympics is meant to foster friendly competitions and hard work among athletes, not to damage them physically or mentally.

Kamila Valieva, a fifteen-year old ice skater for Russia, is currently embroiled in a doping scandal after having tested positive for a heart medication before the games. While many viewers have blamed the young girl for the drug test and have criticized her for continuing to compete after testing positive, they seem to forget that she is only fifteen years old. 

Instead of blaming a young girl for a decision that was likely not hers, we should be asking: What kind of adults would allow a fifteen year old girl to take a banned drug?

After performing in the women’s free skate, Valieva was shown having a breakdown while being berated by her coach. However, Valieva isn’t the only one being treated harshly by the Russian coach. 

The two other Russian competitors for the women’s singles, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova were also subjected to incredibly high expectations from both their coach and their country. 

Trusova competed with what was reportedly was one of the most ambitious womens’ technical programs in history, in which she attempted five quads. Despite this, she placed silver, behind the other Russian competitor, Shcherbakova. Trusova was shown to be emotional after her program, as rumors have gone around that she was told such a technical program would win her a gold. 

Whether such rumors are true or not, it’s undeniable that the Russian athletes are being put under unimaginable pressure. Why is this being allowed at the Olympics, and even applauded? These are girls, not even eighteen years old, that are being put through incredibly demanding positions and then blamed for decisions not entirely their own. 

Valieva was no doubt surrounded by adults as she trained for the Olympics, and as such it is ridiculous to blame her for being in a situation that was likely forced upon her, after which she will likely be discarded for failing to perform.

While this has occurred, the backdrop of the 2022 Olympics has done nothing to alleviate this stress but has instead worsened it. The Olympics are meant to unite a diverse world behind common sports. However, the decision to have Beijing host the Olympics has inflamed debate around China’s human rights controversies and led many people to boycott the games. 

The Olympics weren’t revived with the intention to incite conflict, and the unhappiness with these recent changes within the games is reflected in their decreasing viewership. It’s disappointing to face, but a centuries-long tradition that has unified countries is now becoming a scheme for money and glory.

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