Olympic Court in Session: Fair or Foul?

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Hello! A special session of Sports Ethics court has been convened to cover the issues raised in the first half of the London Olympics. The Honourable (note the British spelling) J. Neuman presides. First case!

1. Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen swam the last 50 meters of her 400-meter individual medley faster than Ryan Lochte, the men’s gold medal winner, did in his. A prominent U.S. swimming coach intimated that there must be something fishy going on. Fair or foul?

What could be suspicious about a 16-year-old female swimming the race of her gender’s life on the world’s biggest stage? Still, questions will be raised about seemingly impossible performances by athletes from a nation with a history of drug scandals. We should be more patient with countries that haven’t yet produced the shining paragons we have, like Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong (alleged). Verdict: Performance, fair; insinuation, foul.

2. The U.S. men’s basketball team demolished Nigeria, 156-73. This kind of annihilation is surely unsportsmanlike, and calls the whole “Dream Team” idea into question. Fair or foul?

As Charles Barkley said of the Angolan player he elbowed during the ’92 team’s 116-48 win, “How do I know he didn’t have a spear?” The ’92 team also defeated Cuba in the Tournament of the Americas by a score of 136-57. As one American player said after reducing an opponent to tears, “You need to have that cut-throat mentality. Not mean and not ‘I want to hurt you and devastate you.’ It’s ‘I respectfully want to beat you and give you my best game.’ Crush you, yes. Not your soul, just you on the court.’ ” Thank you, beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh. I couldn’t have said it better. Verdict: Fair.

3. Sprinter Kim Collins, the former 100-meter world champion and flag-bearer for Nevis & St. Kitts in London, was expelled from the team, reportedly for leaving the Olympic Village to see his wife at her hotel. Fair or foul?

They’re distributing 150,000 condoms in the Village, and Collins gets suspended for leaving to be with his wife? On behalf of concerned spouses everywhere, I call for an immediate boycott of travel to Nevis & St. Kitts. Verdict on the officials: Foul.

4. Oscar Pistorius, the Blade Runner, failed to qualify for the finals of the 400-meter run, but broke barriers by competing and reaching the semifinals on his prosthetic legs. Fair or foul?

According to scientific evidence, his high-tech prostheses are able to deliver a greater energy return from each stride than the human leg. They’re also lighter than the human leg, which is an obvious advantage in a sprint. It is impressive that he has overcome so much to be able to compete, and it seems churlish to point out that the engineering gives him actual advantages over his competition. Is he not, in essence, a human-machine hybrid? If he had won the event, would it seem completely fair? Verdict: With great trepidation, foul.

5. In badminton …

Stare decisis. Verdict: Players, fair; officials, foul.

6.  Ryan Lochte admitted that during warm-ups he

Yeah, I know. Like you never have. Verdict: Foul by definition, fair by precedent.

7. Michael Phelps has concluded his Olympic career with a total of 22 medals, 18 of them gold. He is without question the Greatest Olympian Ever, right? Fair or foul?

It would be hard to argue with “greatest swimmer.”  But swimmers have an obvious advantage over other Olympians. They can do the same thing in multiple events, and if they’re born in the right country they’ll have relay teammates who can really help them rack up the medals. 

Phelps medaled in three Olympics. Sir Steven Redgrave won gold in his sport, rowing, in five consecutive Games. Al Oerter won discus gold in four straight, while working full-time at Grumman Aircraft. Paavo Nurmi took nine gold medals and three silver at three Olympics, winning at distances ranging from 1500 to 10,000 meters. Abebe Bikila won consecutive Olympic marathons and started a continental dynasty for Africa in distance running. Jesse Owens was sensational at one Olympics, and Carl Lewis won four long-jump golds to go along with five golds and a silver in sprints. 

Ivan Udodov was 17 years old when he was sent from Glubokiy, in the then-Soviet Union, to the Buchenwald concentration camp. According to sports-reference.com, Udodov weighed less than 70 pounds and was nearly dead from starvation when Soviet troops liberated the camp. Back in Russia, doctors had him lift weights to build up his strength. He became a national bantamweight weightlifting champion, a world-record holder, and in 1952 he won the Olympic gold medal in his weight class. He is the only person to come out of a German POW camps of World War II and then win Olympic gold.

Michael Phelps is a phenomenal athlete, but swimming is his job.  Greatest Olympian” to my mind requires something more reflective of the triumph of the human spirit. Verdict: Foul.

Court is adjourned.  

Jeff Neuman's columns for RealClearSports appear on Monday and Thursday. Follow him on Twitter @NeumanJeff. His collected golf writing and blogging can be found at www.neumanprose.com.
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