Gold medal gorging and other Olympic tall tales

I love the Olympics. I’m a total sucker for the stories about triumph over adversity, and especially susceptible to weeping when athletes thank their mom. My older brother was an Olympic athlete—a Tornado sailor for Canada in the Athens Games (he’s still working hard for sailing in Canada here).  I know well how hard he  worked to get there with very little government (or other) support, the nights he and his sailing partner spent sleeping on floors, in vans, on the ground, how they had to hustle to raise money on their own to transport their boats, to buy equipment, to pay for training support, logistics and travel. I know the personal and career sacrifices he had to make. That is the heart of the Olympics to me—people who are so committed to their sport that everything else falls away. I admire the passion and the single-minded determination such a commitment requires.

Of course, I’m hardly alone. People all over the world love the Olympics—watching it feverishly on TV, the internet, etc.—so the fact that some of the biggest food/beverage companies in the world have attached themselves to it through sponsorship isn’t surprising. McDonald’s has actually built its biggest restaurant in the world at the Olympic Park, seating 1,500 diners and serving up to 14,000 people a day. I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed. To suggest through such sponsorship that the world’s best athletes are fuelled by this kind of food is a powerful message to children: “If they eat it, why not me?” (I’m pretty sure the world’s children will never quite recover from gold-medal–winning swimmer Micheal Phelps’  endorsement of cheeseburgers—and sugar cereal.)

I’m glad to see that IOC president Jacques Rogge had at least a momentary flicker of conscience about the sponsorship (he was elected in part on his concerns about the obesity crisis), though in the end he and the committee lost their nerve, citing the need for the money to be distributed to national teams.

But there’s something so deeply wrong with the relationship between highly processed junk food and pop and high performance athletics that for me, it taints the whole Olympic Games. So I’ll be reading and cheering (and no doubt weeping) but I’ll be raising a toast to the athletes not the Games.


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