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Rio 2016: An Olympics I Cannot, Will Not Support

Never in a million years did I think I’d be writing a post like this.  The girl who grew up wanting more than anything to become an

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Olympian, who instead became the biggest fan of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement, is experiencing heartache of epic proportion. It’s over.  

At least for now it’s over.  I won’t be so bold as to say that the Olympics and I are “consciously uncoupling,” but I have made the decision to step away.  We’re on a break.  And I’ve got to do some soul searching over the coming months to decide what happens next.  

I’ve been watching the Olympics for as long as I can remember, watching them religiously since I was 10.  I’ve never failed to watch an opening ceremony.  I’ve never missed the key events I wanted to watch.  When I began this blog six years ago, I was able to write about all the feelings the Olympics bring out in me.  I was able to share my excitement with others through my writing, on the radio, and in social media.  It made me love the games even more than I thought I could.  Until now.  

On a personal level, 2016 has been a really tough year.  Surely the Olympics–the one thing I’ve relied on to escape the pain of real life–wouldn’t let me down, too?  It did.  In fact, the IOC had been letting me down for awhile, but I was too naive or stubborn to realize it.

I really wanted to support an  Olympics in South America.  I wanted to see the Olympics expand to other continents.  I wanted the 2016 Olympics to help energize the Brazilian economy.  I was crossing my fingers for a Rio Games that would be recognized for environmental sustainability, an Olympics as green as the Brazilian flag.  Nope.  Not gonna happen.

The reasons behind my painful decision stem from the level of corruption within the IOC which continues to grow.  Cities are being awarded Olympics in exchange for money and other favors.  After the deals are done and the Olympics are awarded, the bulldozers come in, destroying people’s homes, leaving innocent residents homeless.  Those who protest are beaten, imprisoned, or silenced in other ways.  It happened in Beijing.  In Sochi.  And it happened again in Rio.

There is raw sewage flowing directly into the water where athletes will be competing and where visitors will be swimming.  Trash, dead animals, and other large items are also floating around in the waters surrounding Rio de Janeiro, which directly impact the safety and performance of athletes competing in the waters.  (Did I mention the bay in which swimmers will be competing contains raw sewage?)

There’s also this tiny thing called the Zika Virus.  While the source of Zika is a mosquito, the virus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.  It’s the Olympics.  There’s a lot of sex at the Olympics.

Maybe it’s a delayed part of growing up.  Maybe this year’s US Presidential campaign awoke a voice in me, and I cannot in good conscience condone the atrocities occurring in the name of the Olympic Movement.

I still don’t believe Olympic athletes should be paid.  Yet I also disagree that they should be banned from certain privileges while the IOC rakes in billions of dollars.  The IOC isn’t just receiving these gifts directly to its non-profit organization, but individual members of this governing body are pocketing millions of dollars and receiving other favors, profiting off of the trials and tribulations of the Olympic athletes.

This is not the Olympics I grew up watching.  Or, maybe it was, but the level of greed, corruption, and harm inflicted on the innocent has increased.   Because of this, I can no longer feel good about watching the Olympics.  It certainly isn’t the Olympics founded by Coubertin.  

To any doubters or naysayers, I encourage you to watch the most recent episode of “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel.”  Some of what Gumbel and his fellow journalists reported I knew about, but not all of it.  My eyes are now fully open.  I am heartbroken.

Some of you might say, “But in a world full of so much despair, don’t we need the Olympics?  Don’t we need them to give us hope?  Why such negativity?”  Yes, with the current world in which we live, we need something every few years to distract us, dazzle us, and offer an escape.  But we need the Olympics of old.  Otherwise, by watching and supporting the Olympics Games of the 21st Century, we are only aggrandizing the amount of suffering and despair in this world.

The one thing I thought I could count on has failed me.  It  has truly and fully succumbed to the powers of human greed and evil.  My heart is heavy.

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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The Extraordinary Gift of “Back on Board”

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Photo: louganisdoc.com

In August of this year, HBO aired a new documentary film on legendary Olympic diver Greg Louganis.  I don’t keep an active subscription to HBO; but when I read about the film, I knew that I, of all people, needed to watch it.  So I contacted my cable provider and subscribed to the premium channel; and on a weekend evening, my husband and I sat down to watch “Back on Board.”

It was Louganis’ return to diving a few years ago which caught the attention of producer Will Sweeney, who read a news article about Louganis’ new role as mentor to the 2012 US Olympic Diving Team.  In an interview with the film’s director, Cheryl Furjanic told me about the series of events which led to the making of the film:  “[Will] wondered why the best diver ever was away from his sport.  He thought that there must be a story there.  Where has he been, why was he away, and why is he back?”

It’s a question that more of us should have asked, but didn’t.  There is no name more synonymous with diving and Olympic diving than Greg Louganis.  That he virtually disappeared from his sport after retiring in 1988 should, perhaps, have been questioned sooner than it was.  When they began working on the film, Sweeney and Furjanic came across numerous people born after 1988 who had never even heard of Louganis!  “We were stunned,” Furjanic commented.  “This was surprising to us but it also made some sense–Greg really hadn’t been talked about much in their lifetimes.”

I for one hadn’t questioned his disappearance.  Instead, I assumed he’d moved on to a new chapter in his life, choosing to leave behind diving for new adventures and achievements.  After all, it’s not uncommon for Olympians to seek something different in life following years of incessant training and competition.  It is, however, less common for athletes of Louganis’ talent and accomplishments to be no longer connected to their sport.  What most of us don’t know is that aside from the numerous medals and awards, Louganis’ life has been complicated, riddled with emotional turmoil: bullying, rejection, struggle with sexual identity, financial woes, and a diagnosis of HIV.  Feeling unworthy and at times unloved, the young Louganis found solace in the somewhat isolating sport of diving, and his natural talent was quickly recognized by elite coaches who took his raw talent and molded him into the greatest diver the world has ever seen.  Yet the sport in which he excelled would also be a source of heartache.  He was discriminated against and rebuffed by those within the diving community due to jealousy, homophobia, and other irrational agendas, both during and after his years as a competitive diver.

Early in the film, Louganis repeats the question asked to him by an interviewer.  “Who is Greg Louganis?” he asks.  With a somewhat strained smile, Louganis replies, “I don’t know.”

There is no easy answer to the question.  Using no narration other than those being interviewed (including Louganis), we see for the first time other parts of his personality, particularly his extreme vulnerability and sensitivity.   Many of his personal struggles unfold in front of the camera, allowing the viewers to be a part of his journey of self-discovery—or as Furjanic says, “finding his way—and his footing—again after being a bit adrift.”

There are various themes in the film:  the longing for a home, for security, for love; the pain of rejection; and the struggle to navigate one’s way through life….I could go on and on.  The title “Back on Board” applies to many aspects of Louganis’ life, to name a few.  The title, “Back on Board” not only suggests Louganis’ return to diving; it also shows the man’s incredible resiliency.  As Furjanic says, “We…were confident that Greg’s story of resilience was so moving that our film could convey his life story while inspiring audiences at the same time.”

“Back on Board” is an invaluable record of Louganis’ competitive years.  It’s not that I totally forgot about Louganis after he retired from diving; but as time wore on, the appreciation for his talent and skill began to fade from memory.  Watching “Back on Board” brought him back to mind.  Furjanic and her team, using footage of his diving (much of it in slow motion), accompanied by music from composer Tom Rutishauser and Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring,” remind us of Louganis’ unparalleled talent and skill.  For me, it was a stark reminder of  how ethereal and otherworldly Greg Louganis was.  I’ll admit that I found myself tearing up a bit, the hair on my arms bristling, and I said to my husband, “There will never be another like him.”

As a young girl watching Greg Louganis in the Olympics, I was entertained and enthralled by his skill and accomplishments.  Now as an adult, watching these dives again evoked different feelings:  awe and reverence of that kind of natural talent, that kind of skill,, and I realized how lucky I was to have grown up watching him dive.

During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we’ll watch the diving and other athletes compete in their respective sports.  And there will, no doubt, be inspiring stories of athletes who have triumphed over injury and other obstacles.  “Back on Board” offers us a similar yet different story of triumph—one that occurred after the Olympian left athletic competition and worked tirelessly to pull himself up, collect the fragments of his life, and start anew.

If you will pardon the pun, there are more themes I’d love to dive into, but to do so would detract the reader from the experience of watching this beautiful documentary and coming to one’s own conclusions as to who Greg Louganis is.  “Back on Board” is a gift—a gift of extraordinary cinematography and sport history.  The manner in which Furjanic tells Louganis’ story is both heart-wrenching and inspiring.  I recommend it with enthusiasm.

(“Back on Board” first aired August 4 on HBO.  It is still available for viewing using HBO On-Demand or HBO GO and will be available for purchase in September.)

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