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Sunday, November 23, 2014

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Final reflections on the London Olympics

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The Games of the 30th Olympiad are now written into the history books, a testament to the prowess, spirit and endurance of the athletes who participated, and to the marvels of modern communication that so vividly brought the Olympic spectacle into the living rooms of a sports-obsessed planet.

Despite earlier logistical and security concerns, London 2012 was about as good as any event of its size could possibly have been, managed with discipline and precision, and providing an optimal environment for record-breaking achievements.

And inasmuch as the superhuman achievements of swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt will long be remembered, the passion and poise of American gymnast Aly Reisman and the courage of South African Oscar (Blade Runner) Pistorius, remind us also of what these Games ought really to be about. Then, of course, there was the stunning moment when the French swimmer, Fabien Gilot, when raising his arms in triumph, revealed on his inner biceps, a tattoo in Hebrew that said, “I am nothing without them,” a moving tribute to Auschwitz survivor, Max Goldschmidt, who was married to Gilot’s grandmother, and was an inspiration to the young swimmer. 

With each Olympics there are surprises, often punctuated by unexpected performances by particular athletes. This year, the British outdid themselves with a medal haul that placed them third overall, behind the United States and China. At the other end of the spectrum were the 109 nations that left London without a single medal. Among them was Israel, which failed to make the podium for the first time since 1988, causing sports minister Limor Livnat to call for “a shakeup of the system.”

But aside from dreams realized and dreams shattered – all part of the vicissitudes of elite competition that can separate winners from also-rans by just fractions of a second – there was also to these Games a smoldering undercurrent of disappointment related not to sport itself but to one of sport’s pre-eminent governing bodies, the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Even more so in retrospect, there is no convincing reason why a moment’s silence should not have been observed during the opening ceremonies, to commemorate the 11 Israelis who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games. As pleas to do so mounted, so, too, did the voices of resistance become shriller and more defensive. The pervasive suspicion that the IOC brass stuck to their guns out of fear of repercussions from Arab delegations was further reinforced when no hint of censure was uttered after the head of the “Palestinian Olympic Committee” brazenly declared that it would be “racist” to express solidarity with the Munich victims.

That IOC president Jacques Rogge and his coterie of tag-alongs received a frosty reception at a memorial hosted by the Israeli Embassy in London could not have been more deserved. The capitulation and hypocrisy of these “Lords of the Rings” will forever tarnish the exalted ideals of the Olympic enterprise.

As this summer’s Olympiad fades into memory, Rio de Janeiro 2016 begins to slip into focus. Will the IOC’s position on the Munich 11 change by then? Don’t bet on it. A gold medal win by an Israeli athlete in Brazil is probably more achievable.

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