Are the Winter Olympics Elitist?

 
 

The Winter Olympics has historically been a demonstration of prowess, power, and extraordinary prestige. This year has proven no different, with inconceivable records being broken in Pyeongchang, South Korea, as athletes test the boundaries of human strength. However, this tremendous power is a function of ethical responsibility, as Olympic medalists are often exemplified as role models in our society and publicly glorified by the media.

For us mere mortals however, it may seem difficult to relate to athletic expertise in such niche disciplines. While the Summer Olympics consists of sports that we may be more familiar with such as running and swimming, the Winter Olympics consists of less attainable forms of leisure. How many of us have taken part in a sport that consists of lying flat on a light toboggan, otherwise known as a luge? Most of us will never go on a bobsleigh or learn to curl. In fact, many people around the world haven’t travelled to a cold climate, let alone experienced snow.  Even in a relatively wealthy country like Ireland, we would associate skiing and snowboarding with a certain level of luxury.

Even in a relatively wealthy country like Ireland, we would associate skiing and snowboarding with a certain level of luxury.

Exposure to these disciplines is highly relevant when considering their accessibility. The opportunity to take part in sports at an early age is a huge advantage for aspiring athletes. The myriad of Olympic winter sports then may seem impervious, considering the expensive equipment and weather conditions required for participation, even for amateurs. Thus, the way we observe athletics may be distant from our own relationships with sport. At our best, we admire this physical manifestation of eminence. At our worst, witnessing the extraordinary may make us feel a bit ordinary in comparison.

Furthermore, the economic side to sports manifests itself through the financial aspect of the Games. The mere organisational costs of the Winter Olympics are exuberant, with a projected 13 billion US dollars predicted to be spent in Pyeongchang, with a portion footed by taxpayer money. The Winter Olympics in Sochi cost Russia more than $40 billion, including venues, infrastructure and post-Olympic usage. This spending in recreation may seem excessive and superfluous considering other insistent needs in society.

Are athletes only as good as their resources? Does socioeconomic status play a role in determining our passions?

The issue of access has always been pervasive in sport. Are athletes only as good as their resources? Does socioeconomic status play a role in determining our passions? No doubt, a country’s wealth influences its success in the Games, but just how much of a determinant is finance in athletic excellence? One may argue that prosperous countries, such as the USA, have reached high levels of achievement in sports spanning all categories, perhaps due to the enormous investment of resources for these athletes.

Let this year’s medal count in South Korea oppose this claim. Norway, a country which has a similar population to Ireland at 5.2 million, is in the lead with 13 gold medals. The country prides itself on investing in local sports clubs to emphasise the connection between grassroots and greatness. Granted, the cold environment contributes to better training conditions but so does their approach to sport, with athletes stemming from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. This goes to to show that while finances give some competitors an edge, perhaps a country’s sense of collaboration and camaraderie in athletics are also important attributes for success.

Following the widely popularised idea in Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, one needs apparently 10,000 hours to achieve world-class expertise in any certain discipline. While modern day society values convenience over quality, hard work may not be short-circuited with money. To dedicate more than 10,000 hours to an activity displays extraordinary grit. When we see someone standing on an Olympic podium, we see only the superficial glamour and glory. We do not see the thousands hours of work, the early-morning starts and the extraordinary sacrifices Olympic athletes make for their work. They earn a livelihood that is dependent on the physical condition of their bodies, and a career that is purely defined by results.

While wealth may play a role in their victories, the sheer perseverance of these athletes is undeniably impressive.

Furthermore, it takes certain amount of vulnerability to showcase your skill to a panel of judges, and the rest of the world, with the knowledge that you may fail or stumble on such a public scale. While wealth may play a role in their victories, the sheer perseverance of these athletes is undeniably impressive.

Thus, watching the Olympic Games and the athletes themselves can be very inspiring, even if the spectators will never have the chance to emulate their heroes. Passion may be manifested in a variety of forms, and anyone can admire the ability of Olympians to dedicate themselves so wholly and wholeheartedly to their discipline. Their achievements are an embodiment of how dedication and talent can yield great rewards. Perhaps we may view the ethos of Olympics as a source of enlightenment in our own lives, even in areas unrelated to figure skating and snowboarding. We are all capable of greatness, in each and every one of our respective domains.

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