Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

It's All About...Money? Drug Testing? It's the Olympics!

The year was 1972, and the Olympics were held in Munich that year. Of course, that was the most infamous Games that featured terrorist attacks on Israeli athletes (long before the world became jaded by the guman/gunmen du jour massacring people). That event overshadowed a lot of what went on, but I remember two specific things about that year's Olympic Games. I remember Steve Prefontaine finishing fourth in the 5,000 meter run after he had dominated the American field for several years. There was great hope for him for the '76 Games, but Hendricks Park's curvy roadway took care of that. (In his memory, today, I wore a pair of shoes designed for him for those Olympics...the first track athlete to have his "own" shoe.
More importantly, this was the year that Finland's Lasse Viren won both the 5,000m and 10,000m races then proceeded to take a victory lap around the stadium waving his Onitsuka Tiger shoes to the crowd: no national flag draped around his shoulders...his shoes were on display. Rumors abounded that the Onitsuka company gave him a $10,000 bonus for doing so, and the world of amateur [sic] athletics exploded. The only "pure" athletics competition was tainted not by drugs or cheating but by runners getting PAID to win! Having a soon-to-be world record holding shot putter on our college team meant that I was not exactly naive to all the "free" stuff athletes got when they were at their peak...but money?
Now we've come to an Olympic Games scenario in which all of the premier athletes (and not just the no-longer East Germans and Russians) get paid to train, compete and win. One could spend a great deal of time figuring out which country gives the most, but I can guarantee you the woman from Cambodia I saw run in a 200m heat didn't get much. Our athletes, on the other hand (minus the professional basketball players, I would suspect) rack up the dollars for training and performance incentives. Monthly stipends, for our athletes, according to, range from $250/month to $2,000/month which isn't much. They probably also have access to the finest dietitians and medical care (just a guess, though) to help them along. For eclipsing Mark Spitz's Olympic record of 7 gold medals in one Olympics, Michael Phelps got a bonus of $1 million from Speedo. When Usain Bolt broke the world record in the 100m a few years ago, he collected $1.8 million for his accomplishment.
As a result, world records mean more than fame and glory...they mean sponsorships gold, endorsement cash-ins and more than $250/month for expenses. Sadly, these feats also mean increased scrutiny with regard to drug testing and other forms of "gaining a competitive edge," and whiney, nebulous accusations by former wunderkind whose records are being demolished.Remember the controversy over blood doping? It's probably still out there somewhere. Now, it's PEDs.
And Lasse Viren: he's a god in Finland still...and we never DID find out for sure if he cashed in by waving those shoes around. I just knew I wanted to own a pair.


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