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Jon Mark Beilue column - Posted July 29, 2016 10:03 a.m.
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Artwork by Andy Chase Cundiff

The Olympics needs a good Cold War

Every four years during the summer, I really miss the Cold War. Sure, the threat of nuclear Armageddon with the Soviet Union was not a real popular pastime, but, boy, it sure livened up the Olympics.

Good vs. Evil. God-fearing vs. Godless. Uncle Sam vs. the Russian Bear. Honor vs. Cheaters. Boris and Natasha vs. Bullwinkle.It was all there for 17 days every four years, and, I, for one, loved it.

The Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5. The biggest controversy is how many athletes will get the Zika virus or some kind of bacterial disease from the swimming pool. Eventually, athletic performances will carry the day, but the last seven or so Olympics have really missed something compelling:

A villain.

Many of you don’t know what it was like to face the Evil Empire and all of its other cheating satellite communist countries in the Olympics, but it was great theater. It was not a question of them cheating, but it was a question of how much and would they get caught.

In a time before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Germany was divided into East and West, and communist East Germany took cheating to an unprecedented level. I would imagine their urine specimens had to be handled with Haz-Mat suits and tongs as smoke billowed from their cups.

All their swimmers and track athletes looked like Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots. And that was the women, and I’m serious. It later was confirmed what everyone suspected, that East Germany had a sophisticated doping program for steroids and PEDs from 1973 to 1989.

It was revealed 167 athletes used banned substances, which seemed low. How else to explain a country of 17 million winning 40 gold medals in the 1976 Olympics? They cheated. Americans knew they cheated, but all you could do in those days was scream that much louder for the U.S., and get that much madder at the Communists.

The East Germans’ doping was so sophisticated that even Mother Russia couldn’t compete with that. So they just tried to screw the competition in other ways.

Book it that anytime judging was involved, most especially gymnastics and boxing, the Russian judge would hose the competition. There was a Russian-led scandal in rhythmic gymnastics, of all things, and a cheater who was expelled from the Olympics in fencing for a rigged saber.

But there was no screwjob quite like the gold medal basketball game in the ’72 Olympics. Maybe the Russians didn’t start it, but they benefited.

Three different times, the last three seconds were replayed that showed the referees wrong every time and twice stole a U.S. win. On the last replay, a court-length pass resulted in a layup at the buzzer and the Soviets were handed a 51-50 win, the United States’ first official loss in Olympic history.

The Russians celebrated on court like drunken sailors, and at 14, I could barely control my rage. I was spitting mad. I took some comfort later when American sprinter Eddie Hart, who missed his start time in the 100, smoked the Russian gold medalist Valeriy Borzov on the anchor leg of the 400 relay.

Oh, those were the days when way of life – freedom vs. oppression – hung in the balance of the 800 meter and women’s volleyball. People got a little fired up for it, none ever more so than the epic hockey win over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

But then the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan, and Russia and all its lackey countries got revenge by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Five years later, the Berlin Wall fell, and in 1991, the Soviet Union and Communism fell, and while that might have been a boost for human rights, it didn’t do Olympic drama any favors.

Those medal counts that we used to live and die with as tangible evidence of a country’s superiority are now only worth a casual glance.

I can’t work up a good hate for China. As for countries that are truly evil to the U.S., countries like Syria and Yemen and parts of Iraq, they might send two in weightlifting and one in badminton and that’s about it. North Korea has a few athletes, but that country’s so nuts, the whole world thinks they’re weird.

There was a time we knew – knew! – that the Soviet sprint relay team was passing top-secret stolen microfilm inside their baton, so a win over those spies was just a little more satisfying.

Now what’s left of a Russian track team has been banned from these Olympics because of continued doping of its athletes and officials’ refusal to do much of anything about it.

At one time, that would have been groundbreaking news. Now it’s just a yawn. Come the lighting of the Olympic flame this week, I’ll get nostalgic for the Cold War and those old countries we loved to hate.

by Jon Mark Beilue

Jon Mark Beilue is an award-winning columnist for AGN Media. He can be reached at jon.beilue@amarillo.com or (806) 345-3318.
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