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Post Tokyo Olympics: The Hunger Games?
Created by John Eipper on 07/29/21 4:09 AM

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Tokyo Olympics: The Hunger Games? (David Duggan, USA, 07/29/21 4:09 am)

I always appreciate my admiring public (Leo Goldberger and Tor Guimaraes), but try as I might I can think of no connection between Alger Hiss and the 2020 Olympics postponed by a year. Maybe there was the 44 months that Hiss spent in the purgatory of a federal prison--perhaps equivalent to the 12-month purgatory that the world's top athletes spent waiting for last Friday's opening ceremonies. Or maybe it was Dean Acheson's withdrawal from defending Hiss during his second trial and Simone Biles' withdrawal first from the team competition and more recently from the all-around competition. But that seems strained.

The New Yorker referred to these Olympics as the "Anger Games": anger over the delay, anger over the lack of fans, anger over the fact that they are happening at all. Sports without crowds are like sex without orgasms: fun but not satisfying. I think more the more appropriate comparison is the Hunger Games, like the dystopian films of the 2010s: a battle to the death of "tributes" (i.e., athletes) from the "districts" (US, China, the R[ussian] O[lympic] C[ommittee], and of course host country Japan and upstart Australia), all to provide amusement to the home district which in terms of commercial tie-ins is the funder of this extravaganza. The Hunger Games were a one-and-done conflict: only the winner walked off the field and was lionized for the rest of his life. We'll see how many of these athletes return in 2024 to Paris.

Biles' withdrawal is of course the big story, and regardless of whether she has a physical injury (she's staying silent), or has burned out from the mental strain of elite-level competition, the pressure she put on herself as self-declared GOAT, or ennui at being the adult in the room (she's 24: at least an Olympiad older than the other three all-around teammates; three-months younger than MyKayla Skinner, a specialist on vault and floor), her decision gives sharp focus to the incredible discipline that these gymnasts have and are required to have. Running full tilt at the vaulting table, doing a round-off to turn 180 degrees, hitting the beat-board backwards to launch onto the table blindly, then propelling yourself into multiple twists and somersaults before landing on a cushioned mat, is not for the faint of heart. It's like doing trapeze work without a net. At the 2000 Olympics and before, the vault was performed over a pommel-less horse situated parallel to the direction of travel for the men, perpendicular for the women. After a series of accidents including two paralyses of female gymnasts, the IOC came up with the "unisex" table with a beveled "tongue" that is supposed to prevent (or soften) neck-first crashes into the unforgiving beast.

As a one-time gymnast I feel for Biles. I started the sport at the age of 13, late in the path, and competed for five years in the late 60s and early 70s. When I was applying to college few of the East Coast schools had teams (fewer now) or even knew about the sport: after I explained what the sport was all about the Amherst admissions officer said, "I'll bet that winds you up pretty tight." Right: but it's good preparation for making appellate arguments. The shelf-life of a gymnast has also been limited: Mary Lou Retton retired from competition after the ‘84 Olympics at the age of 16. As to Biles' claim that she is the GOAT, I'll let history decide: Czech Vera Caslavska won all-around gold medals at the ‘64 and ‘68 Olympics at the ages of 22 and 26; Rumanian Nadia Comaneci won multiple gold medals at the ‘76 and ‘80 Olympics at the ages of 14 and 18; Russian Olga Korbut (who largely put gymnastics on the map at the ‘72 Olympics), won team golds in ‘72 and ‘76, and individual golds in ‘72 at the ages of 17 then 21. Both Korbut and Comaneci are now US citizens coaching the next generation of girls. It occurs to me that to be the GOAT you have to defend your title. But that excessive pounding, stretching and injuring wears you down, and combined with the inevitable effects that gravity and aging have on the body, I can understand Simone's decision: for similar reasons I elected not to compete in my last college meet.

And Alger Hiss: may he rest in peace. Those who don't accept his guilt of the two charges of perjury are invited to read the appellate decision at 185 F.2d 822 (2d Cir. 1950). Even if Hiss was only fencing with the prosecutor, never a smart move, there was sufficient other evidence than Chambers' testimony to prove that in fact he had turned over documents to him, and that he had met Chambers after January 1, 1937.

JE comments:  David, today you and Ric Mauricio have given me new respect for the pain and risk of gymnastics.  (Not that I considered the sport safe and easy; I just don't think much about gymnastics.)  With Simone Biles now out of the running, will a new gymnastics superstar emerge?  I'm old enough to remember Korbut and Comaneci, who not only put the sport on the world map, but in many ways were the glorious last hurrahs of the East bloc.  (East German figure skater Katerina Witt came later... Socialism's final gasp?)


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