Half-time whistle

We have seen eight competition days at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games so far, so it’s half-time. Time to settle down for a moment amid all the excitement, tension, drama, and ongoing discussions. Here are my thoughts and opinions on some issues that have accompanied us during this first week, and which might accompany us a little longer, in some cases actually for quite a while:

Quality of competitions

Let’s start with the absolute best part. The quality of competitions across many sports has been absolutely incredibly good. We’ve seen a number of world and Olympic records in the pool, at the shooting range, on the cycling track and at the athletics stadium. Several stars emerged during this week which will be associated with the Rio Games forever, Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Katinka Hosszu in swimming, the American gymnasts, led by Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, the British track cyclists, led by Sir Bradley Wiggins, judokas Teddy Riner and Majlinda Kelmendi, the Fijian Rugby heroes, and of course the German equestrian teams, with Isabell Werth and Michael Jung, respectively.

From what I’ve seen, I have to admit that I’m not quite happy with the Judo tournaments. In my opinion, the more recent rules changes regarding the value of scores and penalties (shido) did not really contribute to the quality of the fights, which was, and I’m sorry to say that, generally rather poor. Many fights were decided on the higher number of shidos and not a successful score, with the competitor in the ‘lead’ just pushing and pulling the opponent around and trying to look active, while not really attempting any serious technique. My dad told me today that he would no longer watch any Judo, since it was really boring this time and tactic played a much bigger role than actual technique and fighting spirit. And, sorry IJF, I can’t say he’s wrong…

But apart from that, OK, and Football maybe…, it’s been absolutely awesome. And that alone is a reason to be looking forward to the second week.

Alemanha

The feedback in German media on the performances of the German athletes is, as usual, a bit mixed. I’m writing ‘as usual’ because it has been that way each and every time since Atlanta 1996. I don’t know if it’s a German thing or a media thing or both, but we are quite good at celebrating our new heroes, for a day or two, before forgetting about them for the next four years, and at finger-pointing against all those ‘clear favourites’ who were so ‘disappointed’ after missing out on the (gold) medal that all our TV stations, sports federations and the political elite, relied upon in their planning for the Games. Most of those ‘favourites” names haven’t been heard of by virtually anybody because they don’t feature in our media on a regular basis, except for those two weeks every four years. So there is one thing they have in common with the ‘new heroes’: they won’t be remembered either. It is a very very unfortunate and potentially dangerous situation for sports in Germany, but I’m already getting to much into that…

German athletes have now won an outstanding, yes, outstanding, eight gold medals. Shooting and equestrian are the two sports where the overall performance of athletes and teams have been world class and absolutely outstanding. And while some of the medals had been predicted by many (especially the gold for Michael Jung), a significant number of them were quite unexpected and all the more sweet (Monika Karsch, Henri Junghänel, Lisa Unruh and the Discus throwers).

On the other side of the table were mostly the swimmers. Without going into detail too much here, there seems to be quite a lot to talk about in the German Swimming Federation…

First times

With South Sudan and Kosovo participating in their first ever Olympics, Kosovo, Fiji, Vietnam, Singapore and Puerto Rico have won their first ever Olympic gold medals. And we have to add one gold for the Independent Olympic Athletes, which are actually the Kuwaiti team but are always welcomed with much appreciation, since they are constantly being confused with the Refugee Olympic Team…

Organizational issues

Oh, well, there are quite a lot… These Games are, as one IOC-Vice President quite correctly stated, perhaps the most difficult Games in recent memory. There is so much amiss with the organization, part of which is due to the economic and political situation in Brazil, which is quite different from that seven years ago, when the Games were awarded to Rio. But in many cases, it’s just blatant incompetence, arrogance, a disregard for internationally accepted basic standards, and, well, bad luck. I think I’ll have to write a bit more about that, once the Games are over. But the bottom line is: had the IOC known back then, in 2009, how absolutely insufficient the organization for these Games would be on so so many levels, we probably would be in Madrid right now, and not in Rio…

Attendance

This is somehow related to the organizational issues. The attendance in most of the venues so far has been somewhere between ‘below average’ and ‘non-existent’. Yes, there were not so many people in the stadium at Athens for the morning sessions of athletics, but, seriously, the number of empty seats we are seeing here, the scale of this is absolutely unprecedented. What went wrong? High ticket prices, lack of interest for events not featuring Brazilian medal contenders, lack of foreign visitors due to health and security concerns, lack of a ‘plan B’ on behalf of the organizing committee (why not invite school classes or kids from the favelas?)… Athletics events have begun now and at least for the evening sessions the stadium looks quite adequately full… Let’s hope for the best…

Doping and related matters

We knew that this topic would accompany us during these Games (see: “Committing ourselves to a sport without Doping…”). Now we already have quite a number of athletes (no medal winners, so far) who have actually tested positive for steroids, EPO or something else, even during or directly before the Games. This is so unbelievably stupid, because they had to know that they would undergo even more scrutiny now, and on the other hand such a gift for the IOC who surely will not hesitate to interpret these doping cases as examples for the effectiveness of the control system and the ‘commitment of the movement in the fight against doping’… As if anybody still believes that…

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