Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Thoughts On The Memories Of The 1984 Olympics

by Iniobong Udoidem

For most athletes from other nations, the memory of the games will be reminiscences by the Olympic pageantry which was stylized after a typical Hollywood pomp. A correspondent reflects on the games and suggests changes to rekindle the original ideals
The games of the XXIII Olympiad have come and gone, but the memory still remains. In the United States, the names of some of the Olympic heroes like Mary Lou Retton, Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses and Mary Decker have become household words and children have already taken to their heroes. For "immortal" Carl Lewis, his name will go into the annals of American heroes when Bob Pack, a Houston artist and a Texas sculptor have finished immortalizing him in a bronze statue.

For many the memory is that of joy and for some it is that of pain. The joy of winning and the pain of losing. The joy of the Olympians for having the opportunity to compete with other world competitors and the pain of other world prominent athletes whose nation's jingoistic political stance has barred them from an Olympic joy.

In the United States, the memory is clouded with the thoughts of the success of the US athletes and of how the Russians and their Eastern allies are the losers for boycotting the games. While such memories are great, the self-glorified Olympic record of 83 gold medals makes caricature of an authentic triumph, especially when one considers the fact that some of those gold medalists did not meet already existing Olympic records.

For most athletes from other nations, the memory of the games will be reminiscensed by the Olympic pageantry which was stylized after a typical Hollywood pomp. For some it would be the humiliation of being used as guinea pigs for the exhibition of the American patriotic exuberance. The deafening shouts of "USA, USA" was one such obsession. Perhaps this was a strategy for a home based moral support for the American athletes. But the whipping crowd turned it into an unprecedented, insensitive, unsportsmanlike and demoralizing mechanism for the foreign athletes. The bombardment was so great that some foreign athletes unconsciously echoed the crowd in frenzy with the shouts of "USA, USA". As if this was not enough, the incessant waving of American flags was most obnoxious. Spectators whose ears were deafened by the noise and visions blocked by the flags wished they had stayed at home to watch the games on television.

For others like the South Korean boxers, their memory was expressed in the comments of Kim Seung Youn. "All the Americans win, I think some- times they lose and they still win." Kim is the president of the Korean Amateur Boxing Federation. Such memories recall the doubts that surrounded the belief in the impeccability of the judges. The constant protests against the decision of the judges was so rampant that little remained to be desired of the credibility of the judges. The case which involved the US heavy- weight Henry Tillman and Italy's Angelo Musone was both ridiculous and scandalous. "Musone was victimized and robbed by the jury", reported La Gazeeta dello Sport.

In games like boxing, wrestling, synchronised swimming, gymnastics and other such related sports where there are no clear cut yard-sticks or standards for decisive judgement except for the whims of the judges, medals should be awarded to all the partici- pants and the games appreciated on the basis of aesthetics.

Many people have written about the lowering of standard of Olympic Games, often blaming it on the boycotts. The boycott, whether in the 1980 Moscow Olympics or in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics has little or nothing to do with the lowering of the standard of the recent Olympics. The lowering of standard is caused by the lack of proper incentive to the Olympians to strive for excellence. Perhaps a strategy that would remedy the falling standard is a restructuring of the methods of awarding medals.

Firstly, all the Olympic participants should be considered de facto Olympic silver medallists. To have qualified to participate in the Olympics is a great athletic achievement and it should be recognized and rewarded as such.

Secondly, only Olympians who either break the existing Olympic record or their performance meets the existing record should be awarded gold medals. By setting this standard, we could have an Olympic Games where very few or no gold medals are awarded because the athletes did not meet the standard.

Perhaps this will check the apparent gold medal mania such that resulted in the emotional collapse of Mary Decker when realisation dawned on her that her hope of being a 1984 Olympic gold medalist had disappeared into the drains.

The last of all the memories is perhaps the one that has now become a subject for such academic and intellectual debate. The sensitivity and sensibility of the officials to what is human as opposed to the irrational attitude that haunted the officials during the women's marathon. When Gabriella Anderson Schiess of Sweden staggered insensibly into the coliseum, should the officials have intervened?

The choice of the officials in principle was that of having her dead but qualified and of having her alive but disqualified. Thanks to Gabriella and her fortune, for history would never have forgiven the officials if something more disastrous had happened. Gabriella has made history not because she won an Olympic medal, but that she occasioned a re-evaluation of and probably a modification of an Olympic rule.

The same principle that allows a referee to give an unconscious boxer a standing ten count after which the fight will be stopped could have justified the rescue of Gabriella when it was judged that she was no longer able to distinguish between running and walking. The race was a running race and not a walking race. Why is it that in a walking race, if the competitors run they are disqualified, but in a running race when competitors walk they are not disqualified? In principle, Gabriella was already disqualified when she took to walking instead of running. Therefore, the fear of dis qualification as some have argued was not a rational justification for the officials refusal to intervene. In taking option for what is human, couldn't it have been morally justifiable for the officials to intervene when Gabriella first stumbled in the tunnel?

Many people will remember differ ent things about the Los Angeles Olympics, but history remains to testify how many will learn from the mistakes of the past.

talking drums 1984-09-10 one year covering a region in turmoil