Lincicome: When it comes to the Tokyo Olympics, there's no place like home

  • A custodian Friday tends plants placed to look like the Olympic rings that high school students helped create at Hibiya Park in Tokyo.

    A custodian Friday tends plants placed to look like the Olympic rings that high school students helped create at Hibiya Park in Tokyo. Associated Press

 
Updated 7/18/2021 11:12 AM

My first Olympics was in Montreal. I was billeted at the local university in a student dorm room so small I could touch three of the walls from my bed. I was happy to be there.

Most of the press stayed in the same place. The dorm rooms, those with windows, faced a quadrangle below, a kind of natural amphitheater where sounds carried up and well. Invariably, at midnight there would echo off the buildings the plaintive plea of a veteran columnist from San Francisco, by this time still on deadline and invariably drunk, "I don't belong here!"

 

O Canada, I personally thought you were great.

It took Montreal 30 years to pay off the Olympic debt, but, hey, the world got Nadia Comaneci, Sugar Ray Leonard and Caitlyn (nee Bruce) Jenner.

My enthusiasm for Olympism waned a bit with the years, the low point possibly in Nagano, Japan, where hot spring snow monkeys threw dung at me. Good aim, those chimps.

I covered the Albertville games with a broken collarbone, typing with one hand, my compensation being bottomless Pouilly-Fuisse and endless soft cheese.

The Olympics are not for everybody and the Tokyo games on the horizon are not for anybody. What if they held an Olympics and nobody came? We shall see.

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No joy allowed. No cheers, please. No nationalistic chants. No "USA! USA!" As quiet as an operating room. We'll see.

In banning spectators, one Japanese official explained "it was the only choice available." No, it was not. Not having the Olympics at all is another choice, the best choice, really the only choice. With Tokyo -- already the most joyless city on earth -- in its fourth "state of emergency," due to COVID-19, it is absolute lunacy to have even a skeleton Olympics.

Heretofore, every host city has proclaimed the world is welcome. In Tokyo the world is not only unwelcome but is considered an invader. The official website for Tokyo 2020 -- keeping in its logo the year we would all like to forget -- says the theme of these games is "United by Emotion," meaning, I suppose, no hugging, just waving from a distance.

Quite possibly Tokyo will survive the Olympics, and so shall the rest of us, as we anticipate what will be a noiseless studio show, the better to hear the weightlifters grunt.

The International Olympic Committee refers to itself as an Olympic "family" with much the same authority as Charlie Manson called his. For Tokyo, "family" members must agree that they are on their own, that the IOC has no responsibility for anything that might befall, be it injury, illness or death. This is sort of a combination pre-nup and DNR.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Plus winners have to hang their medals around their own necks.

And so it has come to this. Baron De Coubertin's dream of international cooperation and competition is reduced to waivers and empty seats.

The Olympics will leave traces. Even St. Louis, after all these years, manages to remind visitors that once upon another century it, too, let folks in short pants run through its streets. Athens got a new subway system and we got Michael Phelps and the promise of Usain Bolt.

Both Beijing and Seoul are littered with relics of their ambition, including arenas made solely for sword fighting sitting empty and, as it were, foiled.

The most unfortunate of places to have ever lent itself to the phony hype of Olympic peace is Sarajevo, shortly self-engulfed in spite of the lessons of sportsmanship and brotherhood. Ideals should be more portable.

The idea of the Olympics is always greater than the reality. Both Madrid and Istanbul, losers to Tokyo in the bidding, have one word today. "Phew."

Many of us list our greatest Olympic moment as the time the U.S. won the hockey gold at Lake Placid, when goalie Jim Craig, the American flag draped around his shoulders, his face unshaved and beaming, skated down the ice, his eyes searching the stands for his father, to share with his dad the moment of his life.

Or in Atlanta, when little Kerri Strug took the final vault on a bum ankle to win the gold for her team. What could possibly be more indelible than Bela Karolyi carrying Strug to the medal ceremony?

What memories will Tokyo leave us?

I think of my old pal from Montreal wailing at midnight, "I don't belong here!" Turns out, none of us do.

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