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Olympic Flame Burns on Money

Naveen Sunkavally

There was a glimmer of hope last Thursday for Eric Lindros, the fourth Canadian player selected for the shootout, as he caught the Czech Republic's goalie, Dominik Hasek, leaning far too much towards the left side of the net. As Hasek rolled over like a beetle in defeat and starting flailing his left glove in the air, Lindros took the opportunity to slap a shot towards the right side of the net.

As it turned out, Hasek's maneuver was a signature move for the goalie, and Lindros's shot ended up deflected over the net by Hasek's glove. It was one of the few dramatic moments of the Olympics, and it would permit the Czechs to defeat the Russians on Saturday for the gold medal.

But aside from that moment, the Winter Olympics this year have been vastly disappointment. Continuing that fateful march towards absolute commercialism and professionalism, the Olympics has lost that youthful appeal that has made it worth watching in previous years.

The plight began in the summer of '92, when the American "Dream Team" crashed the Olympic scene and simply overpowered its measly, amateur opponents. The "Dream Team" crusaders came home that year to cheering crowds and million-dollar advertising contracts like imperialists having held back a foreign invasion. This year, men's hockey, one of the last bastions of amateur play, succumbed to the National Hockey League and allowed its players to compete on national teams.

Also, for the first time, the Olympics, in an apparent attempt to attract outside attention, has allowed frizzy-haired rogue snowboarders to compete in Olympic snowboarding. What's next? Ultimate frisbee, roller-blading, or power-walking? Oh wait, speed-walking is an Olympic sport. I can just envision the spectacle: hordes of sweaty, middle-aged women trampling across the Olympic track circuit while children in the crowds cheer for their grandparents. If the Olympics expands the number of sports to encompass such sports as snowboarding, then inevitably every person on the planet will be brilliant at one sport.

In addition, CBS has perverted its right to televise the Olympics by giving its viewers a magnificently watered-down version of features (of which every second one must have some relation to women's figure-skating or some Japanese cuisine) that neglects to show any sports coverage unless a U.S. competitor is involved.

What has resulted from all of this is a marked decline in spirit. Though the level of play may be superior to that of previous years, people who have mixed up their monetary interests with the love of their game will almost inevitably love the game less than those who have committed themselves to the life of the pure amateur. Amateurs not only have more to lose for their love, but they also have more to gain.

In a way its cruel for us viewers to obtain pleasure from the tragedies and triumphs of amateurs who have devoted their whole lives to their sport. But such is the state of human affairs. Life plays itself out in episodes of Greek tragedy and miracles that somehow occur at the most opportune times. The ordinary tends to be the exception to the rule. While the runners-ups are relegated to oblivion, the winners are granted a shrine in people's memories and history.

What do these frizzy-haired snowboarders who have spent some time tooling around with their board in some backyard winter expanse have to lose? What do professionals have to lose when they know they can return to their previous monetary comforts after the Olympics are over?

It is why I believe only amateurs should compete in the Olympics, and should turn professional only after competing in the Olympics. It is why I will always pass up a professional football or basketball game to watch the college players, who, though sometimes more naive and deficient in skill, a little less muscular and well-conditioned, at least give it their all.