Kicking Greek butt

All they did was start it. We’re the ones with the official Olympic oven mitts.

The centennial Olympic Games are upon us. Something about thousands of young athletes gathering to compete before the eyes of the world makes me feel fat and lazy.

I guess I’m bitter. I had Olympic ambitions when I was a kid, but I didn’t begin training seriously until I was 2 — not nearly young enough to have a shot at high-level competition. At age 1, I was too undisciplined.

This year’s Olympics include more athletes and events than ever before. There’s a 32 percent increase in the number of women athletes since Barcelona in 1992. (They pad those numbers a little by considering synchronized swimming and that ribbon-twirling thing sports.)

The Olympics want to include us all — and they’re expecting to come damn near. The 3,000 hours of television coverage are expected to reach 3.5 billion viewers around the world.

I thought we should have let the Greeks host this, the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics. After all, they started it. They didn’t steal our thunder by hosting the American bicentennial or the 1,000th performance of Cats. But we’re the U.S. of A., so we hogged it, and there’s nothing those Greeks can do about it. What, are they gonna kick our butts on the volleyball court over it? I don’t think so.

See how I said “our butts”? The Olympics are already including me. I’d pull a muscle in my neck just from leaning over to accept a medal, but I still consider myself a part of the team.

The Olympic torch ran through most parts of the U.S. as it was relayed from here in Southern California all the way to Atlanta, which, if you’ve been in a coma for the last few years and haven’t heard, is the site of the games. (Of course, some events are taking place in Birmingham, Alabama. What a letdown to have your event in Birmingham. That’s like being invited to dinner at the White House and having to go sit at the kids’ table. I think the spectators there will pretty much all be proud moms and dads.)

The torch already ran right near my house. Lots of people came out to see it. There was a surge of pride. Of course, Southern Californians don’t have a lot of luck with fire safety, so some of the pride may have come from having a torch go by without having to evacuate anyone as a result.

I read on the side of my McDonald’s bag the other day that Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s favorite McDonald’s food is the double cheeseburger with mustard. I felt just like her, except that what she has done with her life and body is extraordinary, while I have chosen to spend a lot of my time rinsing and drying Ziploc bags for reuse.

McDonald’s is the “official break of the Olympic games.” Somehow I think Ms. Joyner-Kersee may have enjoyed one or two fewer breaks than I. I’ll bet you that, as we watch from our living rooms, we won’t notice ketchup in the corners of her mouth during the long jump. McDonald’s has six restaurants at the Olympic Village and expects to serve hundreds of thousands of meals to 15,000 athletes, coaches, and officials from all over the world. I don’t know why Russian athletes would want to come all the way over here to have McDonald’s when they can get it at home.

General Mills is the exclusive sponsor in the area of baking mixes, refrigerated yogurt (any yogurt left out, all hot, will not be theirs), and dry packaged potatoes. So anytime one of us has a big old serving of dry packaged potatoes, we’re practically there in Atlanta ourselves, curling our toes over the edge of the starting block for the 100-meter freestyle.

M&M’s were the official candy of the Olympics one year. I only remember it because it was my most athletic Olympic year yet: I ate tons of M&M’s.

Many companies are licensed to make us feel a part of the Olympics. There are Olympic oven mitts and aprons made exclusively by Fieldcrest Cannon, and decorative tins filled with popcorn and/or jelly beans made by Golden Harvest Products. (You can’t sell Olympic stuff without a license, so nabbing this license puts Golden Harvest way ahead of the rest of the decorative-tins-filled-with-popcorn-and/or-jelly-beans industry.) There are companies licensed to sell key chains, beer steins, watches, sportswear, underwear, coffee gift packs, Christmas ornaments, puzzles, tights, bandages, eggs, milk, caps, bags, lapel pins, dog collars, playing cards, umbrellas, books, and flags–all bearing “official” Olympic logos. It’ll soon be an Olympic event to try to get away from official Olympic logos.

Maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t let Greece have the centennial Olympic games after all. They would have had “official” Olympic feta cheese all over the place. I think that would have cheapened it.


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