Could the Olympics Take the Heat?


Perhaps every athlete at the Tokyo Olympics secretly worried that they were not prepared enough for the challenge. I know I did. Will my performance be affected by the 13 hour time difference? Can I spend long hours in front of a screen while mixing beer and ice cream?

Fortunately, my months of pandemic training – “Ted Lasso”, “The Last Dance”, “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” – paid off. The rewards of the last two weeks have been numerous, enjoyable and often surprising. of England Charlotte Worthington rolls back 360 degrees To win the women’s freestyle BMX. Carissa Moore of Hawaii won the first ever gold medal in women’s surfing. Those enthusiastic high jumpers. Katie Ledecky. Allyson Felix.

Competition for all other organisms on Earth is a strictly Malthusian affair: hunt, hide, raise, lay eggs, repeat. Throughout evolutionary time, this tension has resulted in wonderful morphological adaptations. velvet worms. Ultraviolet flying squirrels. electroactive bacteria. Anglerfish and their living boyfriends.

Humans may be the first species in which such competition is no longer relevant. (Of course, only one kind a disproportionately large cerebral cortex He would dare to think so.) So we invented the Olympics, a showcase of the human impulse in its purest and most niche form. Canoe slalom. Hammer throw. Trampoline gymnastics. Ping pong. There’s also meta-competition: new sports are popping up, the more boring ones (croquet, anyone?) are going extinct.

It would be fair to ask whether such a genre could conceive and televise an even more noble competitive channel. “What if countries compete on the best programs to reduce maternal mortality?” Novelist Joyce Hackett wondered on Facebook. “Competitive literacy rates! Countries with the most new readers make it to the finals, and then formerly illiterate citizens proclaim their country’s greatest poets for victory.”

In less than a year – at record speed – we’ve developed not one but several vaccines against the deadliest virus in a century. But even if the virus spawns its own new variants (Alpha, Beta, Delta) like a Greek contest on its own, we still have a hard time convincing enough people to buy them. We think the old-school rivalry is over, but it’s not over for us.

Already some observers are wondering Whether the Olympics is running its course as an enterprise. Extreme heat and humidity in Tokyo punish athletes — climbers, swimmers, runners, tennis players. (Belgium’s field hockey team prepared to the conditions by training in a heat chamberand the Olympic marathon is kept 500 miles cooler.) A 2016 study in The Lancet found that: global warming will greatly restrict where future Summer Games can be held. Spaces for winter athletes to train are increasingly limited. Our competitiveness may be literally and figuratively distracting us from the competitive business.

This will result in a frustrating viewing experience, let alone a frustrating life experience on Earth. How do we entertain ourselves when the wonders of human sport and the natural world begin to dry up? marble race, maybe. kitchen athletics. There is no doubt that one way or another, good or bad, we will always have it. curling.


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