Some Reflections on the Olympics

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This article
was first published in May 1994.

I know that
everyone has by now OD’d on the millions of words poured out on
Tonya, Nancy, and the rest, but there are still aspects of the late
Winter Olympics that have been largely overlooked.

1. It was a
real pleasure to see the healthy, happy people of Norway enjoy their
Olympics, and to see them zipping along the snow and ice of Lillehammer
streets on their vertical sled contraptions (I think called “sparks”)
while all the tourists were slipping and sliding. It was a pleasure
to see Norway come in 1-2-3 in skiing.

2. From the
above it is obvious that I dissent from the American ultra-chauvinism
that has always been endemic to TV coverage of the Olympics. If
Americans are not competing in a sport it doesn’t get covered at
all, and when they do compete, some American coming in 32nd is closely
followed while the leaders get ignored.

One of the
worst things about left-liberalism is its insistence on politicizing
all of life, and the chauvinist hype is one aspect of the politicization.
Sports are supposed to be individual, or team, efforts, and should
have nothing to do with government or politics, and what used to
be hailed as the “Olympic ideal” was set against such emphasis on
the State. All of this has been long forgotten, the turning point
coming with the disgraceful banning of South African athletes from
the Olympics because of disagreement with that country’s political

The feminist
slogan, “the personal is the political,” sums up much of what conservatives
and libertarians should be dedicated to combat and crush. The counter
to that is the reverse: “the political is the personal,” and “conspiracy”
analysis of the nefarious activities of power elites, right down
to Whitewatergate, is an expression of that counter-slogan.

3. There’s
almost a one-to-one correlation: every leftist pundit, every left-liberal
sports writer (and they are legion) came down fervently in favor
of Tonya Harding. It’s almost like a test; virtually every despicable
person I know turns out to be a Tonya fan. Interviewed on TV during
the Olympics, the pompous quasi-nitwit Frank Rich, the latest entry
in the horrible stable of New York Times op-ed writers, started
to explain why he was pro-Tonya. “It’s a class thing,” he said,
referring to the famous Tonya-Nancy controversy. He started to explain
that Tonya came from a poor background, when he suddenly caught
himself, and was reduced to mumbling from then on, since he obviously
realized that the Kerrigans were poor too.

The difference
is not “class,” and it is disingenuous for the left to pretend otherwise.
The difference is character, what the nineteenth century used to
call the “deserving” versus the “undeserving” poor. The Kerrigans
were poor but honest Boston Irish, the father working at three jobs
to raise the money for Nancy’s skating lessons. Tonya, on the other
hand, is a true product of her rotten white-trash family. She is
at one and the same time an inveterate thug and a whining victimologist
– and come to think of it, these two spectacularly unattractive
qualities often go together. (Leftists, of course, like to use pseudo-scientific
psycho-babble terms such as “dysfunctional” family, as if the problem
were some sort of disease rather than a rotten moral character.)


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Thuggish: apart
from the Gillooly charge of complicity in the kneecapping assault
on Nancy; taking a baseball bat to another woman in a parking-lot
dispute; snarling “I’ll kick her butt” about Nancy Kerrigan, etc.
Whining victimologist: the incredible shoelace caper at the Olympics
which was the fourth time in recent years that Tonya started
skating, did badly, and then went whining to the judges about her
untied shoelace, her broken skate, and all the rest. How come that
no one else in championship skating, has ever had an alleged
problem with her skates or shoes in the middle of a competition?
And why is it that each and every time the wimpy judges
caved in? At the Olympics, the result was to ruin the performance
of the poor Canadian skater who was scheduled to skate after Tonya
and who was rushed prematurely onto the ice by the authorities.

I mean, my
shoelaces are often untied, but I don’t pretend to be a championship

Leftist shrinks
and pundits, when they got off the class kick, were more accurate
in their description of the difference between Tonya and Nancy,
although, of course, they came out on the wrong side. As one shrink
put it: “It’s like a Rorschach test. The people who are pro-Nancy
believe in ‘playing by the rules.’ (How square of them!) The pro-Tonya
people identify with her resentments at the hard knocks of life.”

There’s an
important corollary difference between the pro-Nancy and pro-Tonya
forces. Leftists hate Nancy because her skating is elegant, her
demeanor ladylike and Katherine Hepburn-ish. (The Hepburn illusion,
I’m afraid, shattered whenever Nancy opened her mouth to speak.)
Whereas Tonya didn’t even try for an illusion of ladylike. Even
before the Tonya-Nancy incident, I always disliked Tonya’s skating,
which reflects her personality, heavy-footed, clumpy, thuggish.
Figure-skating is a blend of the athletic and the elegant. Harding
was always more athletic than Kerrigan, but spectacularly inelegant.
A couple of years ago, Tonya’s athleticism began to slip, whereas
Kerrigan’s has been improving. Hence, the perceived need, at least
among Tonya’s “husband” and Gang-Who-Couldn’t Hit Straight entourage
for measures that, to say the least, don’t play by the rules.

4. And speaking
of rules, the entire Harding incident brings into stark relief the
wimpiness, the cowardice of the Olympic and figure-skating authorities.
Let Tonya flash a couple of lawyers at the Olympic salons, and they
crumpled immediately. The left-liberal doctrine, advanced at the
time by no less than our beloved Slick Willie, speaking of course
as an expert on ethics (and who, naturally, was pro-Tonya), was
that Harding should be allowed to skate at the Olympics because
she hadn’t been “convicted of a crime.” (And Slick Willie hasn’t
been convicted yet either, right?) What is this nonsense about being
convicted of a crime? What happened to the good old days when participation
in an Olympic event was a privilege to be taken away from an athlete
at the slightest hint of “unsportsmanlike conduct”? At the very
least, Tonya’s unsportsmanlike conduct was glaring and evident.

All this made
me yearn for the good old days, the many decades when Avery Brundage,
a crusty Old Rightist, ruled the Olympics with an iron hand. One
time, he tossed out Eleanor Holm from the Olympic swimming team
because she dared to drink a glass of liquor! Also Brundage was
firm in upholding the “amateur ideal”; none of this Nike endorsement
nonsense for his Olympic athletes. I must confess that at
the time, when I was growing up, I believed that Brundage was too
autocratic and the amateur ideal too rigid. But look how the Olympics
have degenerated since his demise! Mea culpa, Avery. And
Avery, where are you now that we need you so desperately?

The best comment
on all this came recently when I was lamenting the situation to
an old friend and said that I yearned for the days of Avery Brundage.
“Yes,” said my friend bitterly, “that was before athletes had ‘rights’.”

5. Not that
I was aggressively pro-Kerrigan. On opening her mouth, she turned
out to be ungracious. Besides, she virtually never smiled;
the figure skater should be joyous about her craft. And so I thought
all’s well that ended well when Tonya, despite favoritism from the
judges, finished way behind, and Oksana Baiul, the Ukrainian charmer,
won the gold. Oksana was the best athlete as well as the most elegant;
despite Kerrigan’s grousing, Oksana had the presence of mind to
recover her failure to do a triple and insert it at the end of her
program, something that Nancy had failed to do.

the figure-skating soap opera ended fittingly. Now, if we can only
get rid of the international authorities and Bring Back Brundage,
we should be able to sit through the next Olympics with some enthusiasm.

This originally
appeared in the Rothbard-Rockwell Report.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and academic
vice president of the Mises
. He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell —
of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor.

Best of Murray Rothbard

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