Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What do I dislike about the Olympics?

The Winter Olympics will begin next weekend in Sochi. There has been controversy about the huge budget of the games, especially as all construction work will not be finished before the games. I must say I don’t like about Sochi Olympics being Putin’s expensive PR show but there are also other things I don’t like about in the Olympics.

I think the Olympic Gold is an overvalued achievement in many sports. As a Finn, I can give a great example of an all-time-great athlete who has never won an Olympic Gold, let alone any individual Olympic medal. He is Janne Ahonen, one of the greatest ski jumpers of the last two decades. He has eight World Championship medals, including four gold medals, and he has won the Four Hills Tournament for a record of five times. But his best individual results at the Olympics have been three fourth places. Ski jumping is a good example of a sport where there are a handful of guys who can win the competition and even more guys who have potential to make the podium. It is hard for the best athletes like Ahonen to stand out there. Still, with his consistency he has that excellent record from the World Championships. And moreover, his consistency has won him the Four Hills titles, there are jumpers who can beat him in one competition but lack the consistency to do it over four competitions.

And that is something I dislike about the Olympics. In ski sports, the Olympics are like any World Cup event. In ski jumping, I prefer the Ski-Flying World Championships over other major championships; there they have four competition rounds instead of the usual two. I think that is how it should be also at the Olympics. As the games last over two weeks, for sure there would be time to have four-round competitions over two days. To take a comparison from men’s tennis, in Grand Slam events you need to win three sets instead of the usual two, separating the truly best players from others. I think the Olympics should have competition formats that separate the truly best athletes from others.

Another thing I dislike about the Olympics is the size and huge cost of the games. Countries willing to improve their image, like China and Russia, are willing to sink huge amounts of money to host the games at extravagant arenas. That is hard for other countries to repeat, the costs of the Beijing 2008 summer games were €32 billion whereas the London games four years later cost “only” €10.1 billion. And the huge cost of the games made local people vote against the Munich bid for the 2022 winter games and also Stockholm’s ruling party withdrew the bid for those games.

I think downsizing the Olympics would be very important. It would reduce not only the construction costs but also the maintaining costs after the games. Too often the Olympics leave “white elephants”, sports venues without use. That’s why I was upset to read that the IOC president Bach has suggested adding baseball, softball, and squash to the 2020 summer games. That might not be a problem for Tokyo but what about the next host city. I think the games need to be downsized so that more cities are capable of hosting them.

But, after all, the Olympics are all about business. You could see that when the IOC were planning to drop wrestling from the games and replace it with baseball with star athletes. Or when they added golf to the Olympics, despite the fact that the Olympics will be more of an exhibition event for golfers whose aim is in the major championships. The Olympics may try to keep up an anti-commercialism image by not allowing advertising in athletes clothing or at the competition venues. Yet the Olympics have huge sponsorship deals with e.g. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, and athletes are allowed to appear in adverts as long as they are IOC sponsors’ adverts.

Well, is there anything good at the Olympics then? For most athletes, the Olympics are the big goal in their career and they aim to peak during the games. So we will have high-quality sports for over two weeks. Especially great at the Olympics is ice hockey. The Olympics are the only event where the national teams have the best possible teams.