The American Imperium at the Rio Olympics


There was a period during the Peloponnesian War when the Spartans were barred from attending the Olympic Games for supposedly attacking the city of Lepreum during the ekecheiria, or what was then known as the “truce” that was supposed to be observed during the athletic event.  Before the 31st modern Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee upheld the judgement of the International Association of Athletics Federations, which is the foremost governing body for track and field, on disclosing a supposedly elaborate plot for the doping of Russian track and field athletes in order to improve their athletes’ chances for victory. The IOC upheld the decision to bar the Russian track and field athletes from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.  However, in the Rio games, the Russian Olympians have proven that they are not at all involved in such doping irregularities, but have exhibited excellence in their athletic performances and national character.  Although there is no Pindar in our modern day to write odes to Olympian victors and be handsomely paid for it (as the Greek poet was paid so liberally), we do have the strength of prose to give a more honest assessment of what took place at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.  In reality, the Rio Games turned more into a crass cultural and political war initiated by American media propagandists to impose their bellicose rhetoric of the American Imperium on the Olympics in South America.

Since the very beginning of the 31st Olympics, or not long after the opening ceremonies in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the Americans have launched their political assaults upon other nation-states in a subversive and insidious fashion rather than in the blue-watered pools where they won victories in both individual and relay swimming events.  Once they begin their quest for gold medals, the American swimmers began to display a certain smugness along with a narcissistic and fetish behavior among themselves and the swimming sport itself.  They rarely display any modesty in their victories, much less any sportsmanship in acknowledging their rivals from other countries, especially when it came to the Olympic Russian swimmers.  Many of the American swimmers were aided in their fascistic behavior by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), as well as Cable News Network (CNN) and other television and online resources.  This is not to say that there are no individual American Olympic swimmers and other American athletes who desire to uphold the code of the Olympic ideal of peace which, as the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, wrote, is not a reality among modern nation-states because “Wars break out because nations misunderstand each other. We shall have no peace until the prejudices which now separate the different races shall have been outlived.” 

There are indeed individual American Olympians, especially Americans from national minorities, who realize unconsciously or consciously that they are colonized athletes who, if they do not do the bidding of the American Olympic industrial complex by not saluting the flag, will pay the price in personal ridicule and racial slurs. 

However, there are those among white American Olympians who could care less about athletic protocol or respectful behavior as Olympians representing their country. What we saw at the beginning of the Rio Games were inflammatory remarks made by such American athletes as the immature American swimmer, Lilly King, who taunted the Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova  by arrogantly saying  “You’re shaking your finger ‘No. 1’ and you’ve been caught for drug cheating… I’m not a fan… That’s kind of my personality,” and would go on to say “I’m not just this sweet little girl.… If I do need to stir it up to put a little fire under my butt or anybody else’s, then that’s what I’m going to do.”  Yulia Efimova had suffered a ban for her past alleged doping for the transgression of failing to understand that a nutrition supplement she was taking was not legal. The ban was reduced before she was ultimately allowed to participate in the Rio games. However, there has been no end to the controversy initiated by the self-righteous American, Kelly, who continued to insult the character of the Russian swimmer before Efimova finally said publicly: “It was war.  It was like a nightmare. This completion [of the swimming in Rio] is a relief because I love racing, but this was more than a war. It was awful. She is young, but she should understand more.”  

Where Efimova was naïve was in failing to understand American and class attitudes and the fact that the middle-class and upper-middle-class American athletes, like Lilly King and other American Olympians, are “educated” to assume an air of moral superiority and never acknowledge their own moral weaknesses or hypocrisy. When it comes to American Olympians who have been banned from the Olympic Games in the past for taking enhancement drugs to obtain an athletic prowess guaranteeing an Olympic medal, such is rarely mentioned among American athletes or their coaches, or is simply not mentioned at all. In our modern times, it will be remembered that there was no “truce” in the political sense between modern nation-states at the Olympic Games, but rather war by another means. 

Modesty among athletes at the Olympic Games is now a rarity in the 21st century. We are witnessing the personification of commercialism in Olympians themselves, as well as the beginning of a type of circus performance around their personalities. Even history is being subject to distortion as part of the events, as when American and British media concocted tales out of athletes with such feats as Michael Phelps. Television stations such as CNN lavishly compared the decorated American swimmer to the great ancient Olympians who represented their city-states during the Peloponnesian War. Without blushing, they stated that Phelps has surpassed the famous runner Leonidas of Rhodes in terms of Olympic medals. But Michael Phelps cannot be compared to Leonidas of Rhodes in mere terms of Olympic medals achieved, since the ancient games demanded a different kind of physical and mental discipline. Leonidas not only ran in different kinds of individual races, but also once ran in military armor. Phelps is too much of a privileged American to ever participate in such feats, let alone swim with military-grade weight on his chest and legs. Just as I write this comparison with tongue in cheek,  American propaganda never tires of comparing their athletes to those of the ancient Greek era.

American Olympians are commercialized narcissists who do not understand the word modesty and would always demand money and commercial fame over a simple laurel wreath signifying greatness.  That the national character of American Olympians can change is a possibility, but a social revolution would have to take place in the United States to ensure such a change of character in these American athletes at the Olympic Games.  

As we are entering the second week of the 31st Olympiad, we have witnessed great moments and modest behavior among the Russian men and women fencers who showed magnanimity and gracefulness in victory towards those they defeated with the foil and saber for the gold medal. There was also the great 10,000m record victory claimed by the Ethiopian woman runner, Almaz Ayana, who won her race through hard training and actually ran faster than the male runner who won the 10, 000m run at the London Olympic Games in 2012.  Almaz Ayana demonstrated no arrogance of any kind in her historic, world record win.  Then there was the Brazilian judo gold medal winner, Rafael Silva, who comes from poverty and lived in one of the harshest and largest favela in Brazil. Through personal strength of character against economic, social and class adversity, Silva showed greatness on the judo mat. As the Olympic fan Edurardo Colli said while watching from the stands in the gymnasium stadium: “Everybody here knows that Rafaela's history is more than just a medal, it's a victory for poor people. It's hope for all of them.”  

Then on a summer evening we watched the South African 400m runner Wayde van Niekerk, who exploded out of the blocks and shocked the world with his victory by running in the 8th lane, one of the most difficult lanes to secure such a win in. Wayde van Niekerk broke a 17-year-standing world record and, amazingly enough, was coached by a 75-year-old woman who has served not only as his coach but also his mentor on how to live a modest life as an athlete.  Finally, there was Usain Bolt who, coming from humble conditions in Jamaica, has become a talisman for the working class and poor not only throughout Jamaica, but in other parts of the world as well, through his immortal win in the 100m run in the Rio games. 

It is these few but meaningful examples of personal modesty and perseverance by such Olympic athletes that have overcome the American Imperium during the Rio Olympic Games. The American Imperium will be fortunate if it lasts as long as Imperial Athens, which also overreached in its arrogance to rule the Mediterranean world as the Greek oligarchs knew it in their time.