Editorial: It’s how you play the game

The nation may not be gripped by Olympic fever, but it at least has a caught Olympic interest.

And how could we not? Especially during the grand summer games, the Olympics exhibit bold, sometimes even startling examples of human ability and that raw quality sometimes referred to as sportsmanship. The athletes at these games devote years, sometimes even entire lives, in the pursuit of perfection.

The games are, in short, a weeks long, worldwide display of awesomeness.

That’s in no small part due to the athletes themselves, for some of whom all the preparation and sacrifice make for unrivaled emotional spectacles. The television network carrying the games seeks out touching vignettes on athletes who have risen above challenges and further endear us to these struggles.

(Aside: NBC doesn’t do a very good job of this. Viewers were probably more interested in the runner with no legs than the runner who had kids on Sunday, but sadly the former was on the South African team and the latter an American. So instead you get the startling insight that pregnancy is challenging for an Olympian.)

So the Olympics are billed as the purest example of sport there is. The best athletes at the top of their games. That is why it’s disheartening to see a sad story from this Olympics: four women’s badminton teams disqualified for throwing matches in order to give themselves easier competition in later games.

That is not so shocking as the media reaction to it: veiled outrage. But not for the rules being broken. The image of the games was tarnished, and we need that pristine illusion to carry on loving every moment.

As a people, we love that image more than the athletes themselves. Take American gymnast McKayla Maroney, whose silver-medal performance on the vault was totally unexpected and left her with the most unhappy on-podium expression ever recorded. That led the blogosphere (ever vigilant!) to label her things like a “petulant brat” for not putting on a smile and being proud of her silver (it’s a pretty good award, after all).

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