Olympic-sized Differences

Note: What with the recent controversy over the upcoming Olympics, I thought the time was right to post this article on my website. It's about the 2000 Olympics and it's amazing how not much has changed since then. This article originally appeared in The Silent News and was later published in the book Anything But Silent.

During the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, gymnastics was one of the most popular events. World-class athletes performed incredibly difficult routines with remarkable skill and precision, the end result of years and years of training. The whole world, no doubt, was watching in awe. The athletes had elevated themselves to the highest level of competition and in my mind that made them all winners regardless of whether or not they won a medal.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way. I almost gagged on my Doritos when the Chinese Olympic Team’s coach did an interview on TV. Acknowledging the tremendous pressure to win a gold medal, the coach said something along the lines of “Our country does not recognize a silver or bronze medal. Anything less than gold is simply unacceptable.”

After washing down my Doritos with some Coca-Cola, I nearly spewed my drink when a feature on the Romanian team revealed a similar philosophy. They, too, viewed anything other than a gold medal as an abject failure. Inevitably, I realized, a lot of people were going to return to their native homelands in a sour mood. Instead of enjoying the thrill of competition, forming lasting friendships with athletes from other countries, enjoying the sights of Australia and tons of other enriching experiences, a lot of athletes were going to go home banging their heads on the wall.

I couldn’t believe the stuff I was seeing on my 19-inch Sony. Couldn’t those gold-crazy foreigners see the error of their ways? More than anything, they needed to sit back and enjoy a nice cold Budweiser. What’s wrong with people?

And then, they and other foreign competitors had the chutzpah to criticize our beloved American athletes. Well, eat my Reeboks! They said Americans are too caught up in the commercialization of the Olympics. In short, we’re sell-outs.

Hmmm, they might be on to something. In fact, I spilled my Cheerios when a former U.S.A. Olympic track star made a surprise appearance during a news feature. He mentioned he was working for a charitable cause, good for him. Yet at the same time, he repeatedly snuck in a mention of the shoe company that was sponsoring it. Sell-out!

Remember the 1992 Dream Team featuring Michael Jordan? Mike and a few other players almost had to skip the medal ceremony because they had a deal with one shoe company while the Olympics were endorsed by another. Oh, please. Where are the priorities? The athletes or the clothes they wear? They ought to go back to the way the original Olympics were done -- with the athletes competing buck-naked. Now that would be a ratings boost.

All right, now we have several different perspectives. Perhaps some of the other countries were a bit overzealous about winning. Or maybe it was just good old-fashioned national pride. Nothing wrong with the sense of honor that comes from representing your country the best you can.

And maybe the Americans are truly the epitome of success. After all, isn’t America the land of opportunity? We’re supposed to make a buck, it’s the American way. Or are we shameless sell-outs?

I don’t have the answers. But if I may pull the rug out from under this article (you knew there was a catch, didn’t you?), I also don’t have the answers for a similar situation regarding the deaf community.

We’ve seen it for years: people with varying beliefs about deafness, people who don’t seem capable of understanding each other. You have one group of people saying that mainstream schools are the way to go, as it’s “the real world” and provides a grade-appropriate academic challenge. Residential schools are just too isolated, they say.

Meanwhile, another group insists that residential schools are the best. Deaf students in residential schools have full access to information, full interaction with their true peers, and numerous opportunities to develop leadership skills and confidence. Mainstreamed students, they say, miss out on these opportunities and get lost in the crowd -- so who’s really isolated, then?

Similar arguments arise over sign language versus speech, not to mention the pros and cons of the cochlear implant. I’m not going to get into all of that today. I get a headache just thinking about it. There are too many people on both sides of the argument who cannot or will not understand opinions that are different than their own. Like the Olympic athletes who compete for the honor of their country and the ones who compete for a Wheaties endorsement, some people are worlds apart.

Argh, it makes me want to pull my hair out. Yes, the same hair that gets trimmed every month at Ruzzi’s for only $12.00 (check out his Saturday special discount, it’s a good deal). Anyway, apparently we all have a long way to go. Let’s find some common ground. In the meantime, have a Coke and smile. I’m going to Disneyworld.