Marion Jones is back in the news, Kobe Bryant has mocked the “Dream Team” and Congress is politicking over uniforms. You know what that means? The 2012 Summer Olympic games are almost here! London, here we come!
Well, maybe if you’re a woman. Between the ages of 26 and 43. Maybe.
Truth is, except for my girlfriend, I haven’t heard many people talking about this year’s Olympiad, and I don’t mean, Ra Ra-ing about it. I mean, talking.
But, is that really so surprising? After all, Olympic disinterest isn’t something new. American interest in the games has been on the decline for decades.
Don’t trust me? Take a look at the numbers.
Since the 1984 games in Los Angeles, the overall TV ratings dropped from 16.3 to 7.0 in 2004. While The New York Times hailed the 2008 Beijing games as “the most-viewed event in American television history,” it’s worth pointing out that ratings dropped precipitously after the Michael Phelps Swimsuit Show. We might also question the rationale behind labeling the Olympics, which stretches over nearly three weeks, as a single “event.” But, enough said.
Point being, with an older Michael Phelps unlikely to top his 2008 record-setting gold medal haul, you might just be wondering why you shouldn’t skip this year’s gymnastics in favor of watching The Dark Knight Rises, over and over again.
Even if you don’t know the difference between a discus and a donkey, here are three stories that should keep you watching–if not all month, then at least for the six whole minutes NBC requires to count you in its ratings.
#3) Guor Marial, “Marathoner without Country,” Makes Olympic Squad.
Guar Marial once ran from what is now South Sudan. Now he’s running for it. Sort of.
After escaping from a Sudanese labor camp at the age of 8, Marial ultimately found his way to the United States. His story would’ve been impressive enough if it had ended there. But, it gets better. After attending high school in New Hampshire, he earned an athletic scholarship to Iowa State University. Even more impressive, he won All-American honors in cross-country as a junior. Now, with some government support, he’s going to be an Olympian.
Mind you, this isn’t a case of special pleading. Marial’s running times are Olympic quality. He just had a slight disadvantage, something that most Olympians take for granted: he didn’t have a country to run for. He would’ve run for South Sudan, but they don’t yet have a national Olympic body. You might wonder why he wouldn’t run for Sudan. But if 28 of your relatives died in a civil rebellion, which had led to the half of the country you cared for ceding from the nation, you might choose similarly. Instead, Marial will run under the Olympic flag.
If you want to take a break from the melodrama that passes as television entertainment to witness someone achieve the incredible, you can watch Guar Marial take to the track on August 12.
#2) From Freedom Fighters to Olympic Competitors: Meet the Heroes of the Arab Spring.
From Tunisia to Egypt, from Libya to Syria, from Algeria to Iraq to Sudan, since late 2010, the revolutionary spirit has rocked the Arab world. Governments have been overthrown and dictators have been killed, while ordinary citizens have been transformed into soldiers. Now, in less than a week, some of those citizen-soldiers will become Olympians.
On January 25th 2011, Amr Seoud, the “fastest man in Africa,” put aside his training and sprinted toward what would become the most important protest in the Egyptian Revolution. After the Mubarak regime fell, Seoud’s training schedule became chaotic. Nevertheless, he not only managed to make the Olympic roster but, is poised to win a medal. He’ll be competing against Usain Bolt in the 100 meters sprint.
Wajdi Bouallegue’s troubles began before the Arab Spring. In 2009, he was handed a lifetime Olympic ban by the Tunisian government for insulting, former President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali. When civilians began protesting Ben Ali’s reign in December of 2010, Bouallegue gladly joined in. Twenty-eight days after the protests started, Ben Ali was exiled to Saudi Arabia. You can watch the proud revolutionary floor specialist on July 28th.
Ali Khousrouf, a 23-year-old judo fighter from Yemen, was not quite so fortunate; he was shot in the abdomen while protesting the rule of then President Ali Abdullah Saleh. After learning the bullet had shattered inside him, he thought his Olympic dreams were over. Thankfully, Khousrouf has recovered and you can watch him between July 28th and August 3rd.
For each of these athletes, a positive showing at these Olympic games will mean more than anything that they’ve accomplished before; beyond the personal accolades, these athletes have the opportunity to symbolically demonstrate to the world their respective countries‘ ability to thrive in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
So be a sport–root them on.
#1) For First Time in Olympic History, Every Nation has Female Representative
Yes, you read that right. For the first time since the modern Olympics began nearly 120 years ago in Athens in 1896, every participating nation will be sending a female athlete to the games.
Certainly, this landmark achievement speaks volumes to the successes of women’s rights movements and the general betterment of women’s standard of living globally, since the end of the 19th century.
But it speaks most directly to the attainments of women in the Arab world. Although “Arab and Muslim countries have been sending women to the Olympics for decades,” the recent decisions of Qatar, Brunei, and most significantly, Saudi Arabia, to allow women to participate in the games, points to the increasing gains of women throughout the generally conservative and patriarchal Arab world.
And if any of these women, like Khadijha Mohammed, the 17 year-old weightlifter from the United Arab Emirates, or Qatari swimmer Nada Arkaji, or Saudi Arabian judoist Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, places well and provides their nation with a measure of international prestige, it’s all the more likely Arabic countries will come to view their women as equal in value to their men. Never mind the boon to the hopes of young Arab girls around the world.
So if your mom or your best friend or your romantic other asks you to watch the Olympics this year, just remember the obstacles some of these athletes had to overcome to reach London: labor camps, gunshot wounds, intense gender discrimination. These men and women deserve your support. Give them a few minutes of your time. Who knows? They might just leave you inspired.