HOW GOLDEN IS THAT MEDAL?
All Olympic gold medals are equal. Or are they? In the spirit of Orwellian farm animals, some successes seem more golden than others. Cathy Freeman’s 400m gold medal from Sydney, for example, still shines brighter than just about every medal awarded since.
With the Summer Olympic program being remodelled to welcome more youthoriented events, what should be the high and low standards of what merits Olympic glory? Here is one man’s opinion.
High: Abebe Bikila, Rome 1960
By my marker, all great Olympic gold medals are measured beside Abebe Bikila’s achievement in running barefoot through the streets of Rome to win the 1960 men’s marathon. This was when the marathon was still the pinnacle event of the Games, rather than the toolongforTV afterthought it is in danger of becoming now. Bikila set a world record, won Ethiopia’s first gold medal and opened up opportunities for the generations of African distance runners, men and women, to come.
Think Jesse Owens in Berlin, Freeman in Sydney, Cassius Clay and Herb Elliott in Rome, Bob Beamon’s leap in Mexico City, Nadia Comaneci in Montreal, the multiple glories of
Fraser, Cuthbert, Strickland, Jackson, Bolt and Spitz. As fans, we know a Bikila-level gold when we see one.
Low: The Tug of War, Stockholm 1912
Okay, okay, Stockholm 1912 gets chosen in part because it is the one Olympic tug-of-war contest you can find on YouTube. It’s also the only one in which only two teams bothered to show up. Sweden beat Great Britain, whose team was made up entirely of policemen. This means they were literally the first team of Plodders. Ah, those were the days.
The fact is tug of war lasted at the Games from 1900 to 1920. No harm was done to the Olympic movement. Ditto when motorboating got a run at London 1908. For those who fear the arrival of new, non-traditional events dilutes the brand of the Games, history suggests the Olympics is best-celebrated as a broad church. After all, it’s supposed to be just a bit of cheery fun, right? Right?