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Faster, Stronger, Deeper in Debt
August 8, 2012 5:04 AM   Subscribe

Our proud Olympians and their broke families
posted by Renoroc (52 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
The chance to hold up a championship, not to a happy owner or satisfied season-ticket base, but a country.

A bankrupt country, full of people going bankrupt, living in houses they can't afford, in cities that are literally going bankrupt themselves, in states doing the same thing, in a country living on borrowed time.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:10 AM on August 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


meanwhile in China... "Take the case of diver Wu Minxia, who won gold for China in the 3m synchronized springboard event. Her post-victory euphoria was promptly wrecked when her parents finally revealed to her that her grandparents died the year before and her mother battled—and defeated—breast cancer."
posted by shothotbot at 5:12 AM on August 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


China, the only country topping the U.S. in the medal count, boasts a government-backed national sports program, churning out gold medalists with dizzying success over the past two decades—all on the government’s dime.

Actually...if you consider that they might be playing the long game, technically they're doing it on the US' dime. Who gets the gold medal for owning the most US debt? Social Security. Silver goes to the wall-street-bailing Federal Reserve. China gets bronze - the only actual country to get a medal.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:16 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


A very American story. I wonder how it compares to other countries. There are other countries in the Olympics aren't there?
posted by adamvasco at 5:20 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the UK, this debate has typically been framed by proxy around privilege of education (and the contentious political issue of whether the state school system have a strong enough ethos of competition), given that around a third of medals come from private school alumni, whereas 7% of children attend private schools.

I am sure that the luxury of having one parent able to devote time to a child's sporting success as well as the cost of training, travel and equipment is a strong correlating factor too despite a massive ramp up in funding for athletes (as funding typically only kicks in for elite athletes, rather than the larger pool of aspiring kids).
posted by MuffinMan at 5:21 AM on August 8, 2012


“The Olympics are where a moment on the medal stand, representing 300 million people, is beyond price,” he says. “Opportunity is the treasure that is offered at the Olympics. The chance to hold up a championship, not to a happy owner or satisfied season-ticket base, but a country. The chance to lean over and have someone slip a gold medal over your head. For many it will be the most cherished day of their sporting lives. That's not enough for someone? Then why be there?”
These are the kind of words so clueless I can only concieve of them coming out of the mouth of a sheltered kid with rich parents. This kind of thinking will only lead to talented and dedicated kids with poor parents taking jobs at McDonald's rather than some rich kid's gold metal. Maybe thats the idea.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:21 AM on August 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


China, the only country topping the U.S. in the medal count, boasts a government-backed national sports program, churning out gold medalists with dizzying success over the past two decades—all on the government’s dime.

Isn't the US the only country without state support for the Olympic team? It's not like China had to engage in some vast communist conspiracy to discover state support for sport.
posted by hoyland at 5:23 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only country that turns up for the Olympics, that is. Well, Somalia does turn up and they're unfortunately always the answer to "other country where the state does not do X" for obvious reasons.
posted by hoyland at 5:25 AM on August 8, 2012


Both of my kids compete in Olympic sports, the training costs in the article were actually a little less than I expected. Although neither of my kids are anywhere near Olympic level, it does look like my daughter will be in the hunt for some nice scholarships next year. If that pans out, I may actually come out ahead on 8 years of horse ownership.
posted by COD at 5:38 AM on August 8, 2012


funny - I was just reading this article in the other tab: The Last Word: Lives given up in the pursuit of gold medals .
posted by cendawanita at 5:39 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, the US is kinda cheap. Athlete awards for a gold medal:

Italy: $182,000
Russia: $135,000
Ukraine: $100,000
US: $25,000

At least we beat Ghana, which pays out $20,000. And the UK, which doesn't pay anything.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:40 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of another expensive, increasingly state unsupported training program.
posted by deathpanels at 5:42 AM on August 8, 2012


And the UK, which doesn't pay anything.

Yeah, but can you imagine the feeling of the queen forcing mathowie to change my username to "Sir allkindsoftime"?
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:46 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe there should be an inquiry.
posted by larry_darrell at 5:53 AM on August 8, 2012


Guilty pleasure teen dramarama though it may be, ABC Family's Make It or Break It actually does a pretty decent job going into the financial burden of gymnastics. One of the character's parents make her hold out on endorsements so that she can still be eligible for a college scholarship even though her parents are broke, and then she injures herself, and it's like, well what now?
posted by phunniemee at 5:53 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Love this logic.

1. The Olympics are where a moment on the medal stand, representing 300 million people, is "beyond price".
2. If something is "beyond price", that means the gatekeepers can charge as much as they want for it.
3. Therefore, the Olympics are a where a moment on the medal stand should cost as much as the gatekeepers wish to charge for it.

The sentences at the end of the passage Blasdelb quoted above really, really irk me. As if a week in London with a chance to win a championship should mean that you spend the rest of your life in bankruptcy paying down debt. Not even that, but you're somehow not a true Olympian if you don't subscribe to this tripe.
posted by King Bee at 5:54 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


That means six years, at least, of 30-hour gym days and, at Gage, $600-a-month training costs.

You guys are missing the part where it's so expensive because they have to invest in time-turners!
posted by psoas at 6:15 AM on August 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


This article echoes many of my own Olympic-type misgivings, not that I have any idea of how to address them. I would add, however, that it doesn't point out what's to me the most obvious problem here: Yes, the cost and opportunity cost of getting an Olympic medal are enormous, and many athletes are hoping to medal in order to justify those costs.

But the costs are every bit as high whether you medal or not, and many, many more athletes fail to medal than don't. What do you do when you're the 7th place steeplechase runner or archer or fencer? How many thousands of hours and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars does it take to get to that level? And who cares, once you're done?
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:15 AM on August 8, 2012


With the deficits that first-world countries are running, the 2020 games will be a much more modest affair, one in keeping with the original Olympic ideals.
posted by quidividi at 6:16 AM on August 8, 2012


(Though this

Each member of the “Fab Five” gymnastics team that took home the gold medal in London will make a base salary of $100,000 for participation in the 40-city Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions that will run from September to November.

makes me hope they actually do have wizard technology on hand, because: 40 cities in under 90 days? That sounds incredibly, exhaustingly awful.)
posted by psoas at 6:17 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


China, the only country topping the U.S. in the medal count, boasts a government-backed national sports program, churning out gold medalists with dizzying success over the past two decades—all on the government’s dime.

Not really dizzying success: in terms of medals per head, China doesn't do all that well. New Zealand and perhaps Jamaica would be better examples in those terms. I don't know how good their support for athletes is?
posted by Segundus at 6:20 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


//What do you do when you're the 7th place steeplechase runner or archer or fencer?//

Being 7th best in the world is something to be proud of. It probably won't land you on a box of Wheaties, but for the rest of your life you'll be able to say you finished in the top 8 at the Olympics. To someone who genuinely loves the sport, that is worth a lot.
posted by COD at 6:23 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


40 cities in under 90 days? That sounds incredibly, exhaustingly awful

Oh hi, I see you've never been "vacationing" with my family.
posted by phunniemee at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


"That means six years, at least, of 30-hour gym days and, at Gage, $600-a-month training costs."

If they don't mean 30-hour gym weeks, we should award them the Nobel Prize in physics in addition to the gold!
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 7:10 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sing it Puff...

C'mon, c'mon, uh-huh
It's all about the Benjamins baby
Uh-huh, yeah
posted by incandissonance at 7:21 AM on August 8, 2012


But the costs are every bit as high whether you medal or not, and many, many more athletes fail to medal than don't. What do you do when you're the 7th place steeplechase runner or archer or fencer? How many thousands of hours and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars does it take to get to that level? And who cares, once you're done?

A few years ago, at least, you could turn that kind of experience into a career as a pharmaceuticals sales rep or some other kind of business that involved schmoozing a lot. Not that many people would go into a years of athletic training with that as a desired outcome.
posted by BibiRose at 8:10 AM on August 8, 2012


Well you know the USA is the most Pro-Capitalist system out there so it would be a bit hypocritical for the ÚS government to start funding athletes. Thats a bit too Socialist like Universal Healthcare.

Really its just a result of the US's neo-liberal ideology. Its a meritocracy. There is already loads of sport funding - its called corporate sponsorships. If sports folk what to make a living out of it they should change to some sport that is popular.

Its absurd the way this article is complaining that China has state sponsored sports trainings - of course the do - its a bloody communist country.
posted by mary8nne at 8:35 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


//Its absurd the way this article is complaining that China has state sponsored sports trainings - of course the do - its a bloody communist country.//

It's not even a new argument. We used to whine that the USSR athletes were not really amateurs, since their job was to play sports for Mother Russia.
posted by COD at 8:39 AM on August 8, 2012


One thing I keep hearing (in the UK) is how bloody nice our athletes are and how they show up our professional footballers as a bunch of turds.

This was skilfully underlined when the Team GB soccer team was eliminated (on penalties, in the quarter-finals, for the eighty millionth time). The reaction of penalty misser Daniel Sturridge was to shrug off the arms of consolation from his team mates and retreat into his own splendid isolation. Because team isn't a word that Daniel has ever come across. Indeed, the only word in Daniel's lexicon is Daniel. Turd.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 8:49 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Team spirit is for real national teams.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:02 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know this is going to sound crass, seeing as it's human lives and all, but this is simple risk and reward, much like playing the stock market or devoting yourself to be a world class poker player in Vegas. Sometimes, as in the case of Lochte and Douglas, they payoff is worth it. In most cases, it's not. Let's not get the government involved in this. Families and their Olympic-hopeful children are perfectly capable of deciding whether to go for broke.
posted by Kokopuff at 9:04 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Makes me pine for the Olympics of yesteryear, where training was considered unsportsmanlike.
posted by ckape at 9:15 AM on August 8, 2012


Being 7th best in the world is something to be proud of. It probably won't land you on a box of Wheaties [...]

But that's the whole point. All you have at that point is your personal pride, plus whatever the consequences of the enormous sacrifices you've made to get there are. The Wheaties box is what pays the bills.

I recognize that this is sort of concern-trolly of me to worry about. These athletes are welcome to do whatever they want with their lives. I just have some vague misgivings about the whole thing, which go mostly unvoiced except on (say) a site dedicated to navel-gazingly overthinking things.
posted by Sokka shot first at 9:23 AM on August 8, 2012


ckape: Makes me pine for the Olympics of yesteryear, where training was considered unsportsmanlike.

Hah, yeah. Now most of the qualifiers, to say nothing of the winners, have basically been groomed since early childhood into that specific athletic role. To be world class, you pretty much have to win the genetic lottery AND get parents who will push you into the sport as a small child - and then you are probably going to do it whether you like it or not.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:33 AM on August 8, 2012


So competing in the Olympics is yet another pyramid scheme?
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 9:45 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


My dislike for The Olympics grows stronger every four years. People, a gold medal for running fast is not the ultimate human achievement. There, I said it.
posted by davebush at 9:59 AM on August 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


"A bankrupt country" - The US is not "bankrupt," it's by far the richest country in the history of the world.

The situation is that certain US citizens are hogging all the country's wealth.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 10:24 AM on August 8, 2012


//But that's the whole point. All you have at that point is your personal pride, plus whatever the consequences of the enormous sacrifices you've made to get there are. The Wheaties box is what pays the bills.//

I think there are more benefits than just personal pride. The work ethic and focus you have to have to be top 8 in the world at anything is going to transfer to whatever else you try next. If I was hiring for just about any job and I got a resume that listed US Olympic Team member I'd interview that person. People that were that successful at X will usually work pretty damn hard to be successful and Y and Z.
posted by COD at 10:39 AM on August 8, 2012


My dislike for The Olympics grows stronger every four years. People, a gold medal for running fast is not the ultimate human achievement. There, I said it.

But...but...it's really cool! No one's saying it's the ultimate human achievement, but it is a human achievement, and a really impressive one at that.* I mean, Usain Bolt can run over 27 miles per hour. My car doesn't have that kind of pickup.

Not to pick on you specifically, davebush, but there's a certain contingent of folks who get all hurf durf Olympics are dumb, and it's just like...why? If a person cares enough about something to devote their entire life to it, and their family supports them in this goal, and they're not hurting anyone else, and there's some way for them to say, "finally, yes, I am the best in the world at this thing," why is that so bad? Is it because it's sports? Do your panties get all in a bunch about, say, a highly accomplished violinist who plays a concert at [place considered to be the most prestigious violin concert playing place]?

And then, THEN, on top of the personal sense of accomplishment for that one person, there's the added benefit of all the people out there with un-bunched panties who LOVE the Olympics (me!), who sit and watch these people do these amazing things, completely captivated and amazed by what humans can do. And then when they win, and you see a person who has devoted their entire life to this thing finally reach that point where they know they're the best, you get to see some pretty spectacular emotional scenes and feel all warm and fuzzy.

I just don't understand the hate.

*Also, 16 year old girls can fly. Suck it, physics!
posted by phunniemee at 10:57 AM on August 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just don't understand the hate.

I just don't understand the need to couch a reasonable opinion in terms of women's underwear fit and comfort.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:25 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Haters gonna hate.
posted by LordSludge at 11:37 AM on August 8, 2012


Do your panties get all in a bunch about, say, a highly accomplished violinist who plays a concert at [place considered to be the most prestigious violin concert playing place]?

1. I don't wear panties.

2. Everyone's aware of Usain Bolt. Call me when violinists or writers start getting the kind of attention athletes get.

I don't have a problem with anybody's accomplishments, but the world needs to celebrate cerebral achievements, at the very least, as much as running and jumping.
posted by davebush at 12:23 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but I do not give a rat's ass about the Olympics. And I don't want a dime of my money spent supporting people who spend their whole lives training to do something so completely useless. I am dumbfounded at the waste of human potential when someone spends ten years preparing to flip around on some mats, or use a bendy stick to jump over a bar, or really any other Olympic sport. They could have become a doctor for chrissakes and done something useful for society. They guy who picks of my garbage is far more useful than anyone with a gold medal to show how they wasted their life.
posted by LarryC at 12:40 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't have a problem with anybody's accomplishments, but the world needs to celebrate cerebral achievements, at the very least, as much as running and jumping.

Everyone's aware of Usain Bolt now. Do you know who the fastest dude was before it was Usain Bolt? In the next several years, someone else will be faster and we won't hear about Usain Bolt anymore except for when announcers say, "...just beat Usain Bolt's record!"

People will know Beethoven and Shakespeare and Copernicus forever. And we have Nobel Prizes, the Fields Medal, Wolf Prizes, Pulitzer Prizes, Hugo Awards, MacArthur Genius Grants, and I'm sure a whole lot more those are just the ones off the top of my head, to recognize academic greatness.

That said, if there were a televised or at least open-to-the-public, live, competitive cerebral achievement Olympics, I would watch the shit out of it.
posted by phunniemee at 12:40 PM on August 8, 2012


If a person cares enough about something to devote their entire life to it, and their family supports them in this goal, and they're not hurting anyone else, and there's some way for them to say, "finally, yes, I am the best in the world at this thing," why is that so bad? Is it because it's sports?

Are they hurting anyone? well there are always externalities. The primary issue I have (and I believe a lot of others do) is that sports suck up loads of public funds. How much did London spend on the Olympics? £24bn by some estimates.. I just believe there are a lot of things of social good that could have been bought instead.

And really I have no sympathy for these families. well no more than anyone who has made poor choices in the past financially.
posted by mary8nne at 12:41 PM on August 8, 2012


They could have become a doctor for chrissakes and done something useful for society. They guy who picks of my garbage is far more useful than anyone with a gold medal to show how they wasted their life.

Well, you're in luck because, the fact that the US doesn't pay its Olympic-level athletes means that some of them are, in fact, the guy who picks up your garbage. Even in countries that do subsidize training, they usually have some sort of day job.
posted by Copronymus at 12:50 PM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


And we have Nobel Prizes, the Fields Medal, Wolf Prizes, Pulitzer Prizes, Hugo Awards, MacArthur Genius Grants, and I'm sure a whole lot more those are just the ones off the top of my head, to recognize academic greatness.

And yet, who will we see chatting with Ellen and Jay Leno? Missy Franklin.
posted by davebush at 1:46 PM on August 8, 2012


And yet, who will we see chatting with Ellen and Jay Leno?

If a spot on Ellen and Jay Leno is your personal barometer for success, I think we're done here.
posted by phunniemee at 1:50 PM on August 8, 2012


phunniemee - I think you missed my point.
posted by davebush at 1:55 PM on August 8, 2012


For those looking at usefulness, sheer utilitarian usefulness, don't you think advances in medicine are made by studying elite athletes? Or don't you think physical fitness is a decent goal, in a public health sense and that, people being what they are, there will always be a competitive component to athletics? I don't care much about the Olympics; I don't think I've watched three hours of them, but is there really something a lot more useful that most of those individuals could be doing with the talent they have?
posted by BibiRose at 7:40 PM on August 8, 2012


Anyone who thinks that most Olympic sports (including running) don't require any intelligence, or mental agility and strategic thinking, or thinks of more physical fitness and mental agility or basic intelligence (as opposed to academic achievement, which is a separate thing) as mutually exclusive is just plain ignorant and prejudiced. Sorry.

And, y'know, people freaked the f out over the Mars landing this weekend, even though the garbage pickup is more immediately essential to my everyday existence.
posted by raysmj at 11:11 PM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


COD: //What do you do when you're the 7th place steeplechase runner or archer or fencer?//

Being 7th best in the world is something to be proud of. It probably won't land you on a box of Wheaties, but for the rest of your life you'll be able to say you finished in the top 8 at the Olympics. To someone who genuinely loves the sport, that is worth a lot.
"I may not be the best lover in the world, but 7th-Place isn't bad." - Woodie Allen
posted by IAmBroom at 2:45 PM on August 16, 2012


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