Tuesday, August 14, 2012


August 14, 2012

Wow! The 16-year-old swimmer Ye Shiwen was faster than both Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte and she wasn’t taking drugs, it was her “big hands” that made this possible. The Olympic Committee may have given her a pass but is this a Chinese proverb that’s to be believed?
Female swimmers from Communist China have a disgraceful history of using drugs to boost their stroke although we hear the good Miss Ye isn’t, um, like all those other girls. At 5ft 7ins and only 141 pounds she’s shorter and lighter than her competitors but she’s described as very tenacious. Meaning the rest aren’t?
And then we have Missy Franklin, one year older, winning in the water because she’s 6-ft 1-in, dwarfing all her challengers and with the size 13 feet her family call “built-in flippers.” There isn’t the remotest suggestion of dirty pool here, yet without taking anything away from this talented and highly motivated young lady is it entirely fair? Shouldn’t those in all the other swim lanes have been fitted with fiberglass fins to compensate?
Or plastic hands.
Depends whether the Games constitute a true competition of athletic prowess between humans of equal dimensions or a mere comparison of sizes. This means that for some activities certain body types are disadvantaged and oftentimes whole nations find themselves excluded.
You don’t see many Malays among the heavy-eyebrowed set looking for wrestling and weightlifting gold – just Chinese, Japanese and also the swarthy folks from multi-consonant Asian countries once under the Soviet yoke. (Helpful tip: The females among them have the lighter mustaches).
How many Latin Americans compete in the high jump? In our own basketball, only a few of the short guys make it in a sport dominated by the lean and lanky. Look at Chinese player Yao Ming whose great talent was that he was 7-ft 6-ins, a human skyscraper. Yes, at 5-ft 3-ins the much-loved Muggsy Bogues was the NBA’s shortest player and one of the trickiest, but he was a pure novelty.
A multi-racial nation like ours earns wins in virtually all categories. Smaller, homogenous lands can compete only in certain events. And an authoritarian country under a Communist regime will concentrate heavily on those areas that bring in the most medals.
Swimming is a favorite category. But Synchronized Swimming? You mean like that Busby Berkeley stuff from the 1930s musicals. Is that a sport, an actual competition - seriously? And what about Figure Skating? Surely the Olympics were meant as tests of strength, endurance, agility, not dancing on ice or in the water and then where does it stop - Beach Ballrom Dancing?
The three basic human shapes – endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph – are spread around the planet unevenly. Sleek Africans can run. Ox-like Iranians can wrestle...
So it’s become a horse for each course, of course. Clearly it’s only entrants from super-rich nations that can afford to take part in an event like dressage, also known as “horse ballet”. And what is that anyway? The animal is the competitor, the rider is basically just its trainer. What next, then - lion taming? Oh, the rider’s really the horse’s driver, you say. Then the Olympics should include events like motocross and NASCAR. Maybe skateboarding.
If you can have waltzing horses, then in the 2016 Rio Olympics I’d like to see local cowboy Roy Roberts riding one of his dancing heifers.
Back to the notion of pitting amazons against dwarfs, Hottentots against pygmies – obviously unfair. So perhaps there should be some kind of classification system, as in boxing, to give athletes of different builds a chance. To have 105-pound minimumweight ace Nkosinathi Joyi battle one of those Ukrainian champs, the hulking heavyweight Klitschko brothers, would be unthinkable. Makes no sense.
As to amazons, there’s the curious case of Germany, whose achievement at these London games has been eminently respectable, but nowhere near the runaway success of Communist East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. Nominally female athletes like burly shot-putter Ilona Slupianek came stuffed so full of anabolic steroids and testosterone that she could be the Incredible Hulk’s big brother.
It was only after the Berlin Wall came down that the Commie competitors confirmed what everyone kinda knew anyway.  Champion swimmers Kornelia Ender, Carola Nitschke and Barbara Krause all admitted the state Kommisars had pumped them up with drugs. They spoke out once they no longer feared being treated to a long, compulsory, state-sponsored vacation in a Siberian gulag.
It wasn’t gold they’d won but fool’s gold.
London 2012 has been a spectacular celebration of hard work, friendship and competitive spirit for just about everyone. But today’s Olympics are so fiercely contested it isn’t the athletes alone who compete, it’s governments, trainers and it’s also the chemists. One set of rogue scientists cook up new undetectable drugs for their sportspeople while another group develop ways of detecting them. Catching the cheats is an ongoing process.
Obsessed with national success, the Chinese remove children of primary school age from their families and keep them in vast camps for years of rigorous, even cruel, training. This is what the Olympics have become!
Before 1992 China’s “female” swimmers were out of the picture. Then suddenly they got a dozen golds and at the 1994 Asian Games 11 tested positive for the male hormone dihydrotestosterone. Over the next decade more than 50 such discoveries were made, with Chinese women securing only the occasional medal... until, curiously, this summer in London.
So a big hand for the little lady with the big hands? Possibly.


© 2012 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.