I've long been derisive of the modern Olympic Games. They run too long; they have ridiculous events (Race walking? Come on!); you have to stay up until an insane hour sometimes to see what you really want.
But this time I've found myself glued to the screen whenever I land upon an Olympic event on one of the ten channels playing them. It seems like every time I turn it on, the world record of something or other is broken like so much fine china (Sorry, couldn't help it.)
Maybe it was the absolute pinache that Michael Phelps had by stating before the Games that he was aiming to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in one Olympic Games. Maybe it's the constant barrage of coverage of the Redeem Team and its pursuit to give the USA what it really wants; the best ballers in the world. Or maybe it was the absolute spectacle that China has made of itself on the world stage as a new economic, political, and athletic superpower (which to me, looks more like the new, unpopular kid trying way to hard to fit in).
Something occurred to me as I heard that Usain Bolt had shattered one of the longest standing records in racing, cementing himself as the undisputed Fastest Man Alive. We've been had before. Very recently, in fact. Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin, Ben Johnson. All are huge names in track and field. All are also cheaters who got caught. How are we not to look at someone like Bolt and not think he's doing something the others aren't?
For that matter, anyone who looks at Phelps as above suspicion is either naive or blind. How can we watch him beat people who train easily as hard as himself by a distance longer than his own frame fully extended? How can we be sure he's not doing something?
I think back to baseball when I harbor these paranoid feelings. I assume now that many players achieved their high power numbers during their careers in the 80's and 90's through the use of illicit chemicals.
But for every 20 players juicing up, there was an exception that proved the rule. Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez come to mind immediately. Players who played at transcendent level cleanly while all others around them pumped themselves full of steroids and HGH. I believe Phelps and Bolt to be a couple of these same exceptions: two individuals who for whatever reason, be it superb dedication to training, naturally great athletic ability, or a knack for turning on the jets at the right moment, they get the job done better than any other.
I believe we are witness to very rare events; true athletic greatness, on display for all the world to see. When Usain Bolt destroys another record, he really can be the undisputed Fastest Man on the Planet. Michael Phelps, wearing the same swimsuit as the other athletes, destroying them just as easily. It's just too bad we just can't seem to believe it all.