Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Winter Olympics: Don't Elizabeth Swaney, Blame the System



You may have heard of Elizabeth Swaney by now, or you may have seen her Winter Olympics halfpipe run, and you must have wondered what the hell is going on.

Swaney barely did any tricks in her two halfpipe runs (but she did get a little air and did survive the halfpipe, which in itself isn't that easy for a weekend skier) and has been roundly ridiculed and called the "worst Olympian ever."  Because she is from California and has competed for Venezuela and Hungary on technicalities and found a loophole to qualify for the Olympics, she has been heavily criticized for "gaming the system."

If you want to blame anybody for Elizabeth Swaney's Olympic Moment, you should not blame Elizabeth Swaney, but the Olympics themselves.

The International Olympic Committee games entire countries every four years and has for a century. Cities go into massive debt to build stadiums and venues that will be used for two weeks and then left to rot. The IOC doesn't care what happens to your country after the Olympics, because some other fools have bid- bid! Bid millions of dollars! Of public money!- to go into massive debt to build stadiums and venues that will be used for two weeks in the next Olympics and then left to rot. (After hosting the World Cup and Olympics within two years of each other, Rio is essentially broke. Russia spent $50 billion on the Sochi Olympics and there's no timetable as to when it'll finally be paid off.)

Repeat.

Remember, the IOC is the same group that refused to allow athletes to be paid at all until the 1970's under the guise of "pure sports" while the IOC executive committee took millions.

Jim Thorpe won the very first Olympic decathlon gold medal in 1912 at Stockholm, and also won pentathlon gold. After it was found he took $50 for playing semi-pro baseball before the 1912 Olympics, his medals were taken away for, for he was a "professional."

Jim Thorpe in Stockholm, 1912
In truth, Jim Thorpe didn't know how that particular game was played back then. Hundreds of athletes kept their "amateur" status and played pro ball or took money for loosely professional games by playing under assumed names. Thorpe, fresh from the Carlisle School and not knowing this, played pro ball under his real name. After this, Thorpe played in the MLB and helped found the NFL. He is widely considered the best all-around athlete of the first half of the 20th century.

Thorpe died broke in 1953. His family and supporters tried to get Thorpe's medals restored for decades. Avery Brundage, Thorpe's teammate in Stockholm (he was soundly beaten by Thorpe in both events) and long-time president of the IOC, refused to even consider their pleas, saying "Ignorance is no excuse." In other words, because Thorpe didn't know how that game was played, it was his fault. Brundage denied he refused the request because he couldn't hold a candle to Thorpe on the field and held it against him.

Finally, after Brundage died, the medals were finally restored to Thorpe in the 1980's. The IOC hedged, though, calling Thorpe a 1912 "co-champion." They continue to refuse to acknowledge their mistake.

Meanwhile, the Olympics continued to grow. The first Winter Olympics happened in 1924.


After Jesse Owens won four golds in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he wanted to go home and earn some money in appearance fees. The U.S. Olympic team had been invited to tour Sweden after the games, but Owens declined the invite. Avery Brundage, then head of the U.S. Olympic committee, and others were furious at Owens, and as punishment declared him no longer an amateur athlete.

Denied his ability to do what he could do best, Owens raced horses for money, and ended up working as a gas station attendant. He died broke in 1980.

Let's take a little time off from the Olympics, Elizabeth Swaney, Jim Thorpe and Jesse Owens and how athletes have been exploited to visit the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, which has one of the greatest collections of art in the world. From India to Singapore to Vietnam to Korea, as well as China and Japan, the variation of the collection is amazing. Small Hindu objects thousands of years old, Japanese paper rice curtains from the 1500's, and so on and so on. It is impossible to put a price on what the collection is worth.

Of the nearly 18,000 objects the San Francisco Asian Art Museum has, almost 8,000 come from one collection. The donation of this collection in the 1960's provided the basis for the museum, and even if they only had this collection they would still have one of the best Asian Art Museums in the world.

The private collector who donated those 8,000 items to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum is none other than Avery Brundage.

Jim Thorpe died broke. Jesse Owens died broke. Avery Brundage made so much money as president of the USOC and IOC he bought 8,000 pieces of antiquity- and then, when he donated his collection, he demanded that San Francisco foot the bill for the museum to house his stuff, taking what he learned as IOC president. "Here, want this? Pay for the building and I'll give it to you."

Gaming the system? Elizabeth Swaney doesn't hold a candle to Avery Brundage. Stick that in your halfpipe.

photos: wpclipart.com, San Francisco Asian Art Museum
from the Avery Brundage Collection