Real Gold Winners

In 776 BC, the Greeks first allegedly celebrated physical beauty alongside skill, courage, strength and will. The ethical character of their naked athletes would honor Zeus, top Dog in the pantheon of Gods. Slaves did not qualify, of course, but Greek rulers offered an olive crown – peace – to the ancient equivalent of today’s metal medal winners. During the games, warring nations took a time-out. The TV competitor for the 2008 games featured war between Russia and Georgia. But the Olympic charter still calls for “sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

The Beijing Olympics proved Chinese leaders could orchestrate a show (harmonious development?), something foreign investors presumably want. Like the government, investors don’t care about “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” The beautiful and the good in the globalized corporate economy mean profits made by displaying athletes as promotional actors.

If the world’s fastest man – Usain Bolt — gobbles chicken nuggets before his big race, why doesn’t it work on me? Indeed, the ubiquitous TV commercials interrupted athletic contests to assure viewers of their inadequacies. Not only can’t we do eight flips and six twists and not make a splash after diving from a forty foot platform, but we don’t get proper pleasure, sexual satisfaction, vibrations of pride, prestige, power, status and honorific deference that come from owning an SUV or eating a Big Mac.

The formidable opening and closing spectacle and superb Chinese athletes announced to the world: “we have arrived.” The Chinese proved their competitive Olympic worthiness by spending immense amounts of money to train children to win medals (glory) while US commentators boasted that 100 million Chinese now play the stock market. A real show of strength!

As “history” was being made in Beijing on the track and in the pool, Coca Cola, in a display of chutzpah that no TV commentator noted, claimed “sponsorship” of the events. Did no one notice the incongruity between “proud” Coca Cola, a dubious beverage from a nutritional standpoint, and the athletes who spoke for it, those who supposedly epitomize all that’s healthy including diets?

Miniature – supposedly 16 years old — Shawn Johnson, gold medalist in balance beam, smiled, but didn’t get a speaking role in the Coke commercial. What could she have said: “in all honesty, drinking this sweetened bilge begets no nutritional value, will remove the paint from your car and makes me richer.” In other words, unlike the Greek ideal, modern Olympians don’t deal in truth or honesty; nor do the games show the spirit of good sportsmanship. Corrupt judges! Athletes kicking them!

This international summit of great athletes relates to the promotion of commerce. Coca Cola, for example, has no interest in fair play or honest competition; yet, it has “sponsored” every previous Olympics since 1928. CEO Neville Isdell explained in an interview with CNBC. “Carbonated soft drink consumption in China will rise to 150 eight ounce serving per capita each year.” “Sponsoring the Beijing Olympic Games will give his firm the world’s biggest marketing stage.” Isdell continued, “in the biggest potential market.” Ah the thrill of sports! (Thomas Wilkins, Aug 10)

The games had become a business before Coke paid little Shawn Johnson to push its non nutritional beverage in the name of wholesomeness. Avery Brundage symbolized Olympic values. As head of the USOC in 1936, this fascist businessman showed his ethics by refusing to even entertain a boycott of US athletes as Hitler not only excluded German Jews from competing, but persecuted them in all areas of life. The two US Jews in the 400 meter race, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, got removed from the 400 meter race. Glickman suspected Brundage had done this. Brundage’s ass kissing Der Fuhrer at the games paid off. In 1938, the Avery Brundage Company “won” a contract to build the German Embassy in Washington. Nazi authorities even acknowledged in a letter that they appreciated his pro-Nazi sympathies. As late as 1941, Brundage made a pro Hitler speech in New York. No matter! The unrepentant Brundage rose to become International Olympic Committee vice president in 1945 and president in 1952. In 1971, after historians had revealed documents showing how Hitler used the 1936 Olympics for propaganda, Brundage still insisted: “The Berlin Games were the finest in modern history.”

Brundage could have belonged to the Bush family. George W. Bush’s grandfather, the late US Senator Prescott Bush, held major shares in companies that profited from involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany. National Archives’ documents reveal that Prescott Bush directed a company deeply linked to the Nazi elite. Prescott maintained his connections until 1942, when his company assets were seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Like the Bush family, Brundage’s ethics involved profiting from Nazi connections. Brundage also had trouble with on-whites. He adamantly opposed restoring Jim Thorpe’s 1912 gold medal because the Native American had played pro baseball before racing in the Olympics – where, coincidentally, he beat Brundage in two events. Indeed, Brundage had ratted to the IOC about Thorpe’s brief baseball career. Brundage also felt “fed up to the ears with women as track and field competitors… her charms sink to something less than zero. As swimmers and divers, girls are [as] beautiful and adroit as they are ineffective and unpleasing on the track.” (Andrew Postman, The Ultimate Book of Sports Lists, 1990)

Likewise, Brundage detested the 1968 Olympics drama in Mexico City, when during the medal ceremony winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised fists to show support for Black Power. Brundage spitefully suspended them from the team.

In 1972, Palestinian guerrillas of Black September seized and then killed 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich games. Brundage demanded proper priorities. The games must continue. A few athletes withdrew and competition did stop — for one day. At a memorial service of eighty thousand spectators and three thousand athletes, Brundage “mourn[ed] our Israeli friends.” But, he insisted, “sadly, in this imperfect world, the greater and the more important the Olympic Games become, the more they are open to commercial, political, and now criminal pressure. The Games of the XXth Olympiad have been subject to two savage attacks. We lost the Rhodesian battle against naked political blackmail. I am sure that the public will agree that we cannot allow a handful of terrorists to destroy this nucleus of international cooperation and goodwill we have in the Olympic movement. The Games must go on….”

The Olympics Committee expelled Rhodesia because it practiced racial segregation, hardly comparable to fanatic Palestinians dramatizing their plight! After the attacks in Munich, however, Brundage linked the assassinations of the Israeli athletes and the expulsion of Rhodesia as similar examples of political interference in his games. The Olympics uber alles!

Brundage’s real reigned in Beijing’s Olympic village where McDonald’s and KFC set up shops. Ah the publicity when Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, downed chicken nuggets an hour before breaking the world speed record. “Hey kids, before your next big race, crucial exam, or maybe sex for the first time, you know what to eat and where!”

In the pre Olympic promotions, between July 1-12 Coca-Cola and McDonald’s captured the most media coverage of all 12 Beijing Olympics’ sponsors. (Dow-Jones Insight—2008 Olympics Media Pulse)

When the thrills and chills faded, Coke chief Isdell’s smile remained. He expected a six fold growth in China, already the fourth-largest consumer of the largest beverage company’s 450 sparkling and dull brands — like Diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite and Minute Maid. Coca Cola products reach unlucky consumers in 200 countries, who daily drink 1.5 billion cans or bottles. That’s an Olympic record! Now everyone can understand ‘Live Olympic on the Coke Side of Life,’ the slogan for Beijing 2008.

Isdell told the BBC that the firm supported the “credo of the Olympic movement.” Had he been in charge of Coca-Cola in 1936, Chairman and CEO Isdell said, he would have also sponsored the 1936 Games in Berlin. “Let me be clear,” Isdell told the Financial Times. “We would ask those groups and individuals to find a way to use the openness of the Olympics in a positive way, rather than to attack and undermine one of the world’s last remaining unifying events.” ( April 30, 2008) Unification means Coca Cola sells more sweetened sewer water and taps drying water reserves in rural India.

In the Olympics, viewers watched young people run and swim, coordinate their bodies while fans screamed “USA! USA!”  Wholesome and unifying values? The 2008 Olympics symbolized the triumph of corporate globalization in a nation still officially ruled by a Communist Party. Another end of history?

SAUL LANDAU is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow, author of A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD (A/K-Counterpunch). Dvds of his films from

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SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.