Olympic Green

I was perusing the Internet today, searching for the answer to a burning question… what ever happened to amateur athletes in the Olympic games?  www.olympics30.com  I bring this up today because tomorrow will be the showdown between the Canadian and the U.S.A. hockey teams for Olympic gold.newsid=449331.html?__source=msnhomepage&cid=  I don’t mean to pick on hockey as a game because up here in the North it is an obsession.  Hockey IS Canada.  I jokingly said to a person at work while the Canadian and U.S. women hockey teams were playing for gold that if I didn’t want to sleep on the couch I had better cheer for the Canadians.newsid=447401.html?chrcontext=teamusa#canada+women+shut+u+s+hockey+gold  But under closer scrutiny, here’s the rub. 

The women’s teams are all amateurs while the men’s teams are all professionals.  I scoured the rosters of both the Canadian and American men’s teams and could not find one amateur.  Oh, I know… the women played in college and university teams (possibly on scholarship) but the men are paid to do a job whether they win or lose… and their job is hockey.  It is more an all-star game than an Olympics and I had to find out why this happened.  Not just in hockey, but in other categories such as basketball. 

But first, a little Olympic history.

  Jim Thorpe, All-American.  Here is a young man plucked out of obscurity and made an Olympic hero by none other than “Pop” Warner himself.  Jim Thorpe was possibly the greatest Olympian in modern history and was an amateur.

 Jesse Owens was an Olympian who not only won  gold but also defeated Hitler’s Aryan race philosophy on Germany’s own turf.  Jesse Owens was an amateur.

 Alice Coachman was the first black woman to win Olympic gold.  Setting a world record in the high jump, Alice Coachman was an amateur.

 Fanny Blankers Koen, “The Flying Housewife” is considered to be the best woman athlete ever.  Recognized as the greatest female athlete of the 20th century,  Fanny Koen was an amateur.


I guess it comes down to the money,  aka:  Olympic green.newsid=452090.html?__source=msnhomepage&cid=  If the Olympics was going to survive it had to enable professional athletes to compete otherwise viewership would continue to decline.  Every other society in existence knew that the best teams were the professional ones so why not allow the professionals to compete, each representing his native country?  But in doing this, they form a core of elite participants.  Gone are the days when a Nebraska farm boy who can hurl a bale of hay one-handed further than anyone in the county gets a chance to pitch the discus or shot putt…  and that’s too bad. 

I wonder, what’s wrong with an amateur reaching the pinnacle of his chosen sport and then turning professional?  Again, it is about the money.  Olympic committees wrestled with the fairness of sponsorship, endorsements and compensation for decades.  Competing countries found creative ways to train their athletes under the guise of military enrollment, thus enabling the State to pick up the tab.

It is interesting to note that as television became more popular so did professional sports.  We expect professional athletes to perform well because they are getting paid to do so.  But then when they do poorly, we feel robbed.  Famous sports figures are overpaid, they are prima donnas and not worth the price of admission.  Olympians, on the other hand being amateurs, have the advantages of heart;  i.e. the love of the game and pride of nationality without monetary gain.  If they fail it is understandable because (though they excel in their chosen field) at the end of the day they are like the rest of us mere mortals.

I have enjoyed what I have seen of the Olympics and look forward to the men’s final in hockey.  But wouldn’t it be interesting to see Sidney Crosby in the figure skating competition or Ryan Miller as a speed skater?  To be slightly out of their element might make the sport a little less calculated and a little more… amateurish FUN.  It would put the professionals down to our level and make for a more interesting participant enjoying sport as a sport, not as just another job.

Oh, by the way… I will not be sleeping on the couch Sunday night.


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