Column: How dare Vonn inject politics into the Olympics
Aw, heck, that Lindsey Vonn had to come out and say something.
She dared to open her mouth about politics — in essence saying that she’s going to be representing the people of the United States, and not President Donald Trump.
How dare she infuse politics into the Olympics?
That certainly justifies people writing her to tell that they hope she breaks her neck, as reported by The New York Daily News.
But getting back to politics and the Olympics, we’re pretty sure Lindsey didn’t start this. So here’s little history how politics aren’t exactly new to the quadrennial event.
By his actions, Jesse Owens tells Adoph Hitler to shove it where the sun don’t shine by winning four gold medals, laying waste to the host nation’s notion of Aryan supremacy.
Owens’ performance is the most obvious tale of the 1936 Olympics being a political vehicle. Here are some other “fun” facts about the Berlin Games.
• We all remember the boycotts of 1980 and 1984, but the United States nearly boycotted in 1936 because of Hitler’s regime. This went so far that Germany put Jewish members on its Olympic squad, only to remove them once the U.S. Olympic Team’s boat had sailed for Berlin.
• Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, both Jewish-Americans, were originally set to run in the 4-by-400 relay, but were removed from the team. There is no official record of why this happened, but the U.S. Olympic Committee honored both in 1998 — Stoller, posthumously — a tacit admission that they were removed to appease Hitler.
• After Berlin, the Summer Games were headed to Tokyo for 1940. Had not World War II started, it’s not a leap that the Japanese Empire would have used the Olympics similarly.
But, darn that Lindsey Vonn.
Protests in the 1950s and ’60s and worse …
• The Soviet Union first competed in the Games in 1952 in Helsinki, and of course, the USSR/Russia never used sport for propaganda (ahem, doping and Sochi 2014).
The 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia, coincided with the Soviets putting down the Hungarian uprising, and that translated into the water polo semifinals, known as the “Blood in the Water” match. Hungary defeated the USSR, 4-0, but the match was called before time ran out to maintain order. In a game of physical combat more than actual water polo, the most notorious punch came from Soviet Valentin Propkow slugging Hungarian Ervin Zador.
The latter left the pool with blood pouring from a gash above his eye.
• Also in 1956, the People’s Republic of China begins a 28-year boycott of the Games because the International Olympic Committee allows Taiwan to compete.
• The 1968 Mexico City games are best known for the black power salute of Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos with Australian Peter Norman also on the podium. Smith and Carlos were protesting America’s well-documented civil rights issues, and got banned from the Olympics for life for their trouble.
But no one seems to remember Czechoslovakia’s Vera Caslavska. An accomplished gymnast in multiple Olympics, she turns her head down during the playing of the Soviet anthem to protest the USSR’s invasion of her home country that year. She is banned from international competition.
• In 1972, when the Games return to Germany for the first time since World War II, nine Israeli athletes are taken hostage and murdered by members of a Palestinian terror group.
But what Vonn said was bad.
Boycotts and ‘Miracle on Ice’
• The world does not rotate around the United States, people. The first major boycott came in 1976 when 29 nations — 25 from Africa — walked to protest New Zealand’s rugby squad playing in South Africa, a violation of the United Nations’ sanctions due to Apartheid.
South Africa was absent from the Olympics from 1964-1994 because of the policy. And, quite frankly, using politics — in this instance to ban a nation with an unconscionable racial policy — is fine. Politics in sports can be a tool for good, and, perhaps, a dramatic aid as well as we’ll see.
• Soviet tanks roll into Afghanistan in 1979, and American President Jimmy Carter tries to get the Russians to withdraw by threatening to boycott the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow.
The Soviets say nyet to Carter, but, after considering a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, attend those Games.
And that sets up “Miracle on Ice.” Yes, the miracle is American college kids beating Soviet professionals, but so much of that game was within a political context — the wholesome American boys against the godless robotic communists.
• Since the U.S. boycotts the Games in Moscow in 1980, the Soviets return the favor in 1984 in Los Angeles. And, yes, we almost had a boycott of Seoul in 1988 because the then-Communist countries did not recognize South Korea.
But Lindsey should keep politics out of the Olympics.
And how we watch
Of late, the Olympics have become settings for authoritarian regimes. Can anyone say Sochi 2014? There’s a reason Beijing has hosted the 2008 Summer Games and the 2022 Winter Games. The Chinese government doesn’t have to justify the expenditures to anyone as there is no dissent.
Now before we start feeling too good about ourselves, let’s remember how we’ve watched the Olympics during the last 30 years or so — in bleeping tape delay.
While mercifully, NBC will be doing live coverage from South Korea, it’s worth noting how the games were covered.
There’s always been the “up close and personal” segment where we learn about a medal contender whose family member has died in a tragic combine accident during the last six months, apparently an Olympic requirement.
And then we see nothing but American athletes, the broadcast capped by the American gold-medalist with tears in his or her eyes, as he or she sings the national anthem.
That’s not jingoistic or anything. That’s not a calculated ploy on NBC’s part to play into our political mindset to make us watch more.
But Lindsey Vonn should just shut her trap.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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