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Thoughts on London 2012 Olympics

August 5, 2012

I haven’t actually watched the Olympics except in passing, but here are some thoughts.

  • Not a big fan of the Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville.  Apparently, a lot of consideration was put into the design choice, but I still can’t help but to think they were a mistake.  I’m not the only one that finds them aesthetically displeasing though.  They’ve been described as being the product of a “drunken one-night stand between a Teletubby and a Dalek”, which I find to be fairly accurate.  I also dislike their logo.  Is it supposed to be a CAPTCHA?  I can’t read it, but maybe Wenlock and Mandeville can help…
  • It seems like Oscar Pistorius being allowed to compete is an important precedent.  Even if his prosthetic legs don’t help him now, it’s easy to imagine similar technologies in the future which are far better than human legs.  You could argue this is terrible for sports, and I would agree, in a way.  But ultimately, banning him from racing is just delaying the inevitable.  It’s becoming increasingly unclear/ambiguous what should be considered cheating and what shouldn’t.  How do we decide which substances are to be banned?  Blacklisting isn’t really a good strategy.  What about when the future brings gene therapy, and then genetic engineering?  Will it just transparently become a contest between countries’ top engineers, rather than their top athletes?  Looking further forward, my instinct tells me the Olympic games will remain in some form, but in dealing with these issues, will eventually just become robot olympics.  This was just one (prosthetic) step in that direction.
  • Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier on olympic success and predictions.  Perhaps the most interesting prediction is that China will level off as an Olympic powerhouse, because they’ll be getting older, partly due to the one-child policy.  This is basically saying they’ll level off because their effective population (the Olympic labor force, so to speak) will drop.  But I’m under the impression that China’s medal counts are largely due to the government’s recruitment and training.  Though population and Olympic success are highly correlated, I don’t think the obvious causal reason (larger populations have more athletes) has as much of an effect as you would think.  India does poorly in the Olympics, probably because of culture and health.  But I do think China will level off, mainly because the developing world will grow in their share of medals, as per their first prediction.  
  • What are the primary factors in what Olympic sports get broadcast?  I personally find many Olympic sports which get shown often pretty boring to watch (e.g. swimming).  I suspect this is true of others, and that the entertainment value of the sport itself is not a large factor in coverage in the Olympics.  For the most part, what gets broadcast should be what the public wants to see.  I imagine the main thing we (in the U.S.) want to see is for the U.S. to compete well.  We don’t care to see the Chinese flag raised or hear the Kazakhstan anthem sung.  But there are other things we want to see, like Usain Bolt running and Maria Sharapova (playing tennis, optionally).  Indeed, I think a big factor in what we want to watch is seeing nice bodies, especially with women.  The primary example is women’s beach volleyball, which is shown much more than women’s basketball (where U.S. dominates), for example.  The camerawork acknowledges what the audience wants (a funny related link).  The less coverage, the more coverage!  This year marks the first time bikinis aren’t required for the female players, but the players mostly still wear them.  (Though this is probably largely because they’re used to the bikinis.  I’m sure basketball players would be uncomfortable playing in a Speedo.)  In gymnastics, swimming, and tennis, females are featured about as prominently as men.  Baseball isn’t really shown, despite it’s popularity outside the Olympics.  Fencing and shooting sports aren’t shown (though the U.S. isn’t strong at them).  In the Winter Olympics, we watch figure skating rather than skiing or sledding.  (All statements like this are only based on my sampling, which could be wrong.  I couldn’t find actual numbers.)   Am I on the mark here?   Or perhaps I only remember watching sports with nice-looking women?  Or perhaps I selectively watch them…
  • Honestly, this could be an article on The Onion, and I wouldn’t have batted an eye.  In fact, that world is probably a better world.
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