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Are the Olympics Creepy?

So says the guy who wrote FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. He actually focuses on one particularly disturbing, abusive, and perhaps voyeuristic sport. It's not what you think: He's OK with women's beach volleyball.
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Discussions - 13 Comments

There are few other sports in which a timorous moment could have more devastating consequences. A moment of self-doubt or hesitation on the football field or tennis court might cause one to lose the game or match, but not life or limb. Gymnastics coaches must thus attempt to extirpate all vestiges of fear/natural timorousness from their athletes...the intimidation is a means to end intimidation and is a necessary component of the sport at every level, not just the elite level.

It's clearly not a sport for everyone, and I don't mean to deny the reality of abuses. Nevertheless, I find Bissinger's tone & analysis insufferably paternalistic.

If you watch Law and Order Criminal Intent or Lewis Black's root of all evil Olympic games vs. drinking games, the same point is made in different ways about women's gymnastics. It is just true that in order to be a high level athlete like that everything in life must be subordinated. Tiger Woods supposedly underwent child-abuse of a more mild sort in order to be where he is today. John Stuart Mill underwent incredible strain to attain his consinderable education, resulting perhaps in a mental breakdown, and the list of things people have to do to reach specialization/greatness is hard to phantom. I think a lot of the appreciation for these great people involves what we immagine they had to give up in order to attain the pinnacle. I know that a lot of people and ethical thinkers believe that steroids are the ultimate evil or betrayal, but in some sense steroids of all drugs simply shows a level of intense dedication. In this sense I think that the pot smoking of a Ricky Williams type is more of a let down. Being surpased by someone who is willing to sacrifice more, is less of a threat or danger than a similar advantage that appears natural/casual.

The strange question on the Olympics would be: why is it illegal for athletes to willingly push themselves to new heights with steroids, and yet it is not illegal for parents to push young girls prior to the age of consent to undertake mind-body altering discipline and trainning regimens?

I suppose one could say that I am reducing everything to consent, and the argument against steroids from consent is that steroid use has externalities, pushing or crowding deserving athletes out in favor of cheaters, and or forcing them to take on risks and sacrifices. So being against steroids is designed to protect athletes from cut throat competition, of course this policy does seem to favor those with more "natural/genetic" abilities, and probably doesn't really prevent effort from being pushed to human supressing levels.

Sara H:good point but is it worth it? While these strategies have their competitive justifications, these are still very young folks. And this might be a naïve qustion and I know next to nothing about gymnastics but is the risk of serious injury really that much greater than pro football? Football players can literally end up crippled, as happened to a Bills player this year.

I don't know how that happened but I authored comment 3

Ivan, very fair questions. Re: the second, I must say I don't know much about pro-football (or football of any kind), but the gymnastics-football analogy is a common one...at least among gymnastics fans. Like football players, gymnasts regularly compete/train with illnesses/injuries that would have many players on the DL for their respective sports. Obviously participants in the two sports are susceptible to injuries of different kinds--I'm sure football players sustain many more concussions--but I don't think the risk of serious injury is any less for gymnasts. The stats and anecdotes in the article seem more or less representative to me.

Re: the question of age, perhaps I would be more disturbed if I thought that the girls themselves weren't actually more obsessed than the coaches (and certainly the parents) with winning. Wouldn't they have to be? Sure the coaches and some parents push, but we're talking about an abnormally self-motivated group of (yes, very young) people here. In fact, I'm sure many parents would be glad for their daughters to pick up a less expensive, less dangerous hobby.

I was competitive at a low level and wish I had been good enough to subject myself to the abuses of Bela and Marta Karolyi.

The strange question on the Olympics would be: why is it illegal for athletes to willingly push themselves to new heights with steroids, and yet it is not illegal for parents to push young girls prior to the age of consent to undertake mind-body altering discipline and training regimens?

The answer to this is easy: It's against the rules. A sport is defined by it's rules. To reach for a winning form by often abusive work levels in children is not yet against the rules. Perhaps someday it will.

Steroids and other ways of chemical/genetic enhancement goes against the work-with-what-you-have spirit of almost all sports (excepting perhaps WWE :).

Unfortunately, steroid and other chemical (and now genetic) enhancements have been part of almost all sports for 40 years now...

"Unfortunately, steroid and other chemical (and now genetic) enhancements have been part of almost all sports for 40 years now..." But that can't be, it is against the rules!

I agree that womens (so-called) gymnastics is pretty creepy.

we're talking about an abnormally self-motivated group of (yes, very young) people here.

Since when were five-year olds allowed to make such decisions? They are not very young "people", they are children, barely infants in some cases.

Nevertheless, I find Bissinger's tone & analysis insufferably paternalistic.

You may be older now, but you're still a silly girl.

Who would have known Sara H was a real gymnast?

John, Thanks for your err...thoughtful comments.

The article almost had me persuaded, but the erudite (and agile) Sara H brought me back to reality. By the way, how do you slap someone on a blog?

Sara's comments on the blog and in classes are always insightful. She doesn't speak that often but it's always worth listening to.

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