Once again, I’m thinking of Olympic gold

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2012

There is genuine excitement in our country every four years. Patriotism is on the tip of our tongues and the sound of The Star Spangled Banner is truly music to the ears of our citizens. The American spirit is “on display” for the entire world to see. If you think I am writing about our election of our president, an event that happens every four years, you’re wrong. My subject is the XXX Olympiad, also known as London 2012.

Every four years (save a few interruptions for our wars), since 1896 when the Modern Olympic movement was begun, we have celebrated an international event of running, jumping, shooting, rowing, and playing with all sorts of round spheres. This celebration of sports is known very simply as the Olympics, as in “Have you watched any of the Olympics?”

This Olympiad’s games began on Friday, July 27, and will end this Sunday night, August 12. In between those two dates have been the expected thrills that come with victories as well as the agonies that accompany defeats.

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There have been familiar faces, like American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, setting records and adding to their legendary statuses. We like to see those veterans of past Olympics and wonder, can they do it again?

We are also interested in new faces, and could there be one with more brightness and pizzazz than the smiling Gabby Douglas? She is only 16 years old, but has spent 10 of those years inside gyms, building strength, stamina and artistry that just might make her the most popular teenager in America as soon as General Mills can put her picture on their premier product, Wheaties.

This is sort of off today’s subject, but not completely. As I am sure Gabby Douglas will find her place among the many athletes who have been pictured on a box of Wheaties, can you name the first? Baseball player, Lou Gehrig, in 1934, was the first athlete to have his picture on a box of Wheaties, but with a distinction. He was on the back.

American Olympian Bob Richards was the first athlete to appear on the front of a box of Wheaties. He was a gold medal winner in the pole vault in 1952 and 1956. His 1956 gold medal for pole vault was won with a height of just under 15 feet. This year’s winner, not known at this writing, will come close to 20 feet.

I have not seen too much of the Olympics this year, but many years ago, I liked to watch as much of them as I could. I don’t remember Richards winning in 1956, but I do remember watching the games in 1960. They were held in Rome, but you remember that, don’t you?

The 1960 games were the first to be televised in North America and CBS paid a whopping $394,000 for the rights. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is telecasting this year’s games and, for anyone who doesn’t believe in inflation, think about this figure. For the London 2012 games, NBC will pay $1.2 billion, that’s with a “b.” NBC has said that they will probably “break even” on the expense.

It would take a lot of gold medals to equal the money NBC has paid. Have you ever thought about the worth of those gold medals that are hung around the necks of the winners? Don’t worry, I have.

First of all, forget the myth that a gold medal is all gold. It’s not even half gold. I looked it up and found that about 92.5 percent is silver. That is a requirement from an Olympic Charter. Then the silver portion is covered with gold, in other words, gold plated with at least six grams of gold. When current rates of silver and gold are figured, the winner of a gold medal has something that is worth about $450.

Michael Phelps has 18 gold medals, the most of any athlete in all of Olympic history. Still, the worth of the medals pales in comparison to the endorsements that will come his way. He may not have to work as we do for the rest of his life, but I have no doubt he has earned his living already.

As far as nations go, the United States is far and away the leader in total medals for Olympic Games, which, by the way, includes both the Summer and Winter games. The U.S. holds the commanding lead because of the Summer Games and doesn’t do as well in the Winter Games.
For instance, the U.S. has won a total of almost 2,300 medals (gold, silver, bronze) in the Summer games, but only 253 in the Winter games. The small Scandinavian country of Norway is the international leader in Winter Games competition. I guess all that snow and those mountains account for something.

This year, it looks like a very tight race between the U.S. and China for the overall medal totals. It looks like China is coming on pretty strong. It’s probably because they made our uniforms too tight so that we would be hampered in our games. That’s alright, though. The games are supposed to be played with the attitude of “it’s not who wins, but how you play the game.”

At least we have uniforms. At the first games, held way back in 776 before Christ was born, they played the games in the nude. That was in Greece and the entire Olympics consisted of one race. Come to think about it, if Greece ever gets the games back, it might be same!