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Ring Around The Olympics

It's Athens 2004 time. I've found it really hard to get enthusiastic about these Olympics. I think that four years is too frequent a cycle, and the experience locally of Sydney 2000 is personally a bit hard to top. But it's hard to take the Olympic Spirit seriously any more.

For me, the defining moment of the demise of the Olympic Spirit in this country was the Craig Stevens/Ian Thorpe episode. In brief, Thorpe failed to qualify for the 400m freestyle at the Games, after he slipped off the starting blocks in his qualifying heat of the Australian selection trials. Stevens (no, not him) qualified in what normally would have been Thorpe's place.

Australia was, according to the tabloid media, split down the middle over whether Stevens should have given up his place to Thorpe or not. Weeks later, he did - by way of making an exclusive announcement on Channel Seven's "Today Tonight". The decision was delayed while his managers negotiated a suitable price for his announcement.

See reports in the Sun-Herald the day before the announcement, and in the Sydney Morning Herald the day after. A transcript of Stevens' interview with Today Tonight appears on Telstra's Australian Swimming website.

There are many cases of athletes lodging appeals or seeking injunctions after missing selection for their national squads. So much money riding on their appearance at the Games... And then there's those jealously guarded broadcast rights.

Webcasting is verboten, in order to protect the TV rights holders. Even use of footage on the news is absurdly restricted. The 3x3 rule permits non-rights holding television networks to screen three minutes of Olympic highlights per day, three times (for example, on the breakfast news, the evening news and the late news). See Crikey's take on this.

The ideals have been blown to smithereens over the past couple of decades, and in any case the value of an Olympic title has been devalued by the prevalence of World Championships, World Cups, Champions Trophies and other major events in each sport every year or two.

Even the concept of an "olympiad" was blown out of kilter when the Winter Olympics were shifted to the alternate even-numbered year.

I intend to be posting regularly throughout the Athens Games. For the first time since 1992, I won't be watching the Opening Ceremony live (and probably not on replay), and I frankly couldn't care less about the nationalistic hype that we will have to cop in Australia over the next couple of weeks. The ignominy of Montreal 1976, when Australia failed to win a single gold medal, is long since past...

Next in this series: Which athletes, sports and countries I will be tracking at Athens 2004.

Earlier editions of Ring Around The Olympics: