Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Book on the Mexico City Olympics

I just found out about this book and thought you might be interested. SI Writer Richard Hoff has recently written a book about the 1968 Mexico City Olympics called Something in the Air: American Passion and Defiance in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. It tells the story of many athletes, including George Foreman, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Bob Beamon (who broke the long jump record by an amazing 22 inches), and Dick Fosbury (who established the modern form for high jumpers).

I hope the book talks about why the IOC decided to award the Olympics to Mexico. As I mentioned before, this was the first time the Olympics was hosted in a developing country.

My parents and sister visited last week, and we all had a good time (despite some awful traffic at times). Personally, I'm still hoping to get to the beach soon.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Olympics - 2016 and 1968

Anyone following my Twitter yesterday knew that I was a little obsessed with the vote for the 2016 Olympic host city, which culminated in Rio de Janeiro being chosen as the winner. Friday was a pretty exciting day in that sense. I was bummed about Chicago losing, but it was an interesting day nonetheless. I woke up at 1:30 AM to watch Chicago give its final presentation in Copenhagen, Denmark, site of the vote. First Lady Michelle Obama gave an amazing speech telling of her childhood growing up on the Southside and how her father, even after being diagnosed with MS, still went to great length to keep playing with his kids, and how he would have loved seeing the Olympics in Chicago, a city that has never hosted the Olympics (aided by St. Louis's stealing of the Olympics in 1904 after Chicago had been selected to host). Chicago's videos were pretty good, but the speeches of Mayor Daley, President Obama, and Chicago 2016 CEO/Chairman Patrick Ryan were rather bland. And, I can't imagine the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was too thrilled with the president being in Copenhagen for only 5 hours, instead of the multi-day visit of Brazil's tubby president Lula (a president and a country that certainly wanted the Olympics more than my own). Despite having what many neutral observers thought was the best bid, Chicago lost in the first round of voting, finishing in 4th (Tokyo was 3rd and eliminated after the 2nd round of voting, and Madrid finished 2nd in the 3rd and final round of voting).

I really wish Chicago would have won. I understand the arguments about budget overruns, etc., but more than anything, I think it would've been a blast to have the Olympics in Chicago. I do think the IOC made the right decision in choosing Rio. It's a very fun city and the Olympics, have never been in South America (or Africa ... ha, or for that matter, Antartica ... ask my mom about the continents, she's an expert!). The Olympic games really did need to go to South America, and specifically to Brazil, an emerging economic powerhouse. But I definitely was frustrated by the disrespect the Euro-centric IOC gave to Chicago (and the United States in general).

Philip Hersh, the Chicago Tribune's excellent Olympic sports writer, gives a great explanation of the significant disconnect between the IOC and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). The IOC feels the USOC hasn't been active enough in the international sports movement (not especially surprising from a country with globally successful leagues). There was also some behind the scenes deal-making to make sure Chicago got knocked at first, and some foreign IOC members were outspoken about the poor treatment Chicago got despite its very solid bid. When you combine the dislike of the US by the IOC with the strong desire to give the Games to Rio, Chicago, in hindsight, was logically dead from the start.

Given the small likelihood of the IOC giving less voting power to the Europeans, it is necessary to have their support going forward in order to win a bid, and we had none 0f their support this time. The IOC basically wants a greater level of deference from the USOC and additional US Olympic television revenue (ignoring the fact that half of the 12 premier Olympic sponsors are American companies). In the twenty-two years between 1980 and 2002, the US hosted the Summer or Winter Olympics 4 times. It is now guaranteed to go 16 years (2002-2018) without having the Games at all, and given the animosity between the USOC and the IOC (along with the fact the 2016 Olympics are in the Americas), it seems unlikely now that the US would host the 2020 Summer Games. If the USOC really wants to host the Games more often, they'll need to significantly strengthen their relationship with the IOC (however unpleasant that might be).

This week will also importantly decide whether golf is included in the 2016 Olympics. An IOC committee approved golf to be an official medal sport starting in the 2016 Olympics, and the general IOC body is expected to approve golf this week. Golf, despite not being in the inaugral 1896 Olympics, was an official medal sport in 1900 and 1904. Since then, it has not been an Olympic sport. I strongly feel golf should be in the Olympics, and nearly all the top professionals have put forward their support. Golf is an increasingly global game (the world's top ranked female is Mexican Lorena Ochoa), and I believe if golf became an official Olympic event, national Olympic committees around the world would give more funds to golf, allow greater access to people of all income brackets. However, the selection of Rio possibly hurts this. Chicago, Tokyo, and Madrid all have high quality tournament-caliber golf courses. Rio ... not so much ... at all. The only currently viable course is two hours away, and even that course would require significant upgrade. If golf is approved, it'll be interesting to see if a tournament-caliber course will be constructed in Rio, or if they'll have to go far outside the city to use one. I really hope golf will be approved this Friday.


Now, as I'm sure you're not wondering, why is so much written about the 2016 Olympic bid on a blog about life in Mexico? Well, in 1968, Mexico City became the first city in Mexico, the first city in Latin America, and the first city in the developing world to host the Olympic games, hosting the Summer Olympics that October. That summer saw significant protests worldwide about a variety of things. Those protests were not foreign to Mexico. Unfortunately, as the result of the horrific actions by the government of Mexico at the time, approximately 200-300 protesters were killed in Mexico City shortly before the Games. The scene took place the Plaza of Tres Culturas on October 2nd of that year. The President at the time sent troops dressed as civilians and ordered them to fire on the military patrolling the protest. This was ordered with the purpose of the military now having a reason to start firing into the crowd of protesters (with the goal of killing the protesters and returning order to the city for the Olympic games). Sadly, despite Mexico's more open democracy, no one has yet been charged for that crime.

The Opening Ceremony took place on October 12th, and outside protesters did not affect the Games at all. Certainly the most remembered part of the Games took place after the men's 200 meter final. Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos took gold and bronze, respectively. Australian Peter Norman finished with silver. During the playing of the U.S. national anthem, the Americans both gave the infamous black power salute (Michael Jordan, really an all-around jack-ass who clearly doesn't care about using his influence to better society, would have his own Olympic protest in 1992 when he almost refused to take the medal stand due to the requirement to wear the official team warm-ups during the medal ceremony. Naturally, this was about money: Jordan was protesting Reebok's logo (and not his personal sponsor Nike) being on the threads. Classlessly Jordan used the American flag as a prop to appease his sponsors. This was the biggest moral stand Jordan has ever taken in his life). Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expelled from the Games and the subject of much criticism around the world. Peter Norman's stand against racism cannot be overlooked either, as he wore a patch in opposition to racist policy in Australian. He was ostracized as well, and was not allowed to participate in the 1972 Olympics.

Probably the most impressive athletic accomplishment of the games was the long jump performance of American Bob Beamon. He obliterated the long-jump record. Not to take away from him, but the extreme altitude of Mexico City (the first Olympics competed significantly above sea level) likely played a role in this performance, but it was still very impressive nonetheless.

The Olympic stadium was built in the south of the city, in Coyoacan, just off of Insurgentes (a north-side street that is the longest in Mexico City). The stadium is part of the campus of the country's biggest college, UNAM. Since the Olympics, el Estadio Olimpico has been used as the stadium of Pumas, one of the most popular teams in Mexico's soccer league. South of the stadium is Villa Olimpica, the former Olympic village that is now used as housing for residents.


Thankfully, the rainy season is now over. It's sunny, 70s, and clear, all day, every day.
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