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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What Do the Olympic Rings Symbolize?

The meaning of the Olympic Games' five interlocking rings is not at all black-and-white.

The rings of blue, black, yellow, red and green, which make up one of the most recognized symbols in the world, traditionally represent the five different areas of the world involved in the Olympics (North and South America are considered one area, along with Africa, Australia, Asia and Europe).

The International Olympic Committee states that the Olympic Symbol reinforces the international component of the Olympic Movement as the meeting of athletes from around the world. According to the Olympic Charter, "The Olympic symbol expresses the activity of the Olympic Movement and represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games."

But the six colors, if you include the white background in the Olympic flag, were intended to represent the various colors seen on the flags of nations competing in the Games of Olympiads I, II, III, IV, and V. And historian David Young says it is likely that these rings could also symbolize the previous five Olympiads completed prior to 1914.

Each color does not correspond to a specific continent, as is commonly thought; besides, there are technically seven continents on Earth, not five.

"It is a true international emblem," wrote Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympic Games, in 1913. He spoke of uniting the different regions of the world, not the different continents.

Coubertin designed the Olympic flag in 1913, at the outbreak of World War I, to symbolize peace and fraternity. Though adopted the following year as the official Olympic symbol, he had to wait until after World War I to see the Olympic flag flown at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. Coubertin had commissioned the Olympic flag to mark the 20th anniversary of the IOC's founding, June 23, 1914, in Paris.

The 1928 St. Moritz winter games in Switzerland were the first to display the Olympic rings on the official Olympic poster. But it was not until the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin that this emblem became widely popular.

As an image of Olympism, Coubertin thought the rings had deep significance, that of the union of humanity.

American historian Robert Barney says, in his November 1992 article "The Great Symbol" published in Olympic Review (the official publication of the International Olympic Committee), that the roots of the inspiration for the rings came from Coubertin's previous work.

In 1890, Coubertin became president of the Union des Sociétés Francaises des Sports Athlétiques (USFSA), a French sports-governing body. The USFSA arose as a result of a merger between two French sporting bodies, one led by Coubertin. To represent this merger, the USFSA had created a logo of two interlocking rings that was displayed on the uniforms of USFSA athletes starting in 1893 — one year before Coubertin initiated the Sorbonne Conference in Paris where the Modern Olympic Movement began.

The larger symbolism of circles was likely not lost on Coubertin either. Circles, or rings, represent wholeness, according to psychologist Karl Jung, and when joined together, continuity.

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Carl Lewis on the Olympics

Arguably the most dominant track athlete in Olympics history, Carl Lewis won nine gold medals in four Olympic games from 1984 to 1996. After taking a break from the sport following the Atlanta games, the champion sprinter and long jumper will be in Beijing for his own globally syndicated Olympics program, The Carl Lewis Connection. caught up with Lewis at the Audi Best Buddies Challenge in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where he joined Tom Brady and other celebrities in raising money for people with intellectual disabilities. Lewis, who's served on the group's board since 1994, was typically candid about his views on the current state of track, youth athletics, and his own physical fitness.

Which athletes are you most excited to see at this year's Olympics?
It's bigger than just the athletes. What I really want to see is America send a clean team to the games. To me, that's what it's about. I stayed 110 percent away from it for 10 years and when I came back I saw a sport in total disarray. And I am not going to say it's drug infested, because that is totally unfair, but I will say the sport is without a soul. Accountability is what the sport has lacked at every level. I want to see people win because they have worked hard their whole lives to get to this competition. You see their heart instead of seeing people that won because they did whatever they could to win.

You were on the 1980 U.S. team that boycotted the Moscow games and later won four golds in 1984, when the Russians boycotted Los Angeles. What are your thoughts on the current political climate surrounding the Beijing games?
Politics has always influenced the Olympics. And politics is always a part of sports. Some people are saying to boycott Beijing because of their human rights. And the very people calling for a boycott are also the ones buying Chinese products. You can make a stronger statement if you go there and speak. We almost boycotted the 1936 Olympics. And just think if Jesse Owens had not gone. The silver medalists in all his events were Aryan race people. So look how different our world would be had Hitler been given that platform. Instead, Jesse goes, without saying a word, and shuts that down.

What does track need to do to escape this 'disarray' that you mentioned?
You remember the Super Bowl when John Elway dove for the end zone and got hit?

The one where he flipped around like a helicopter?
Yeah. Do you remember the score?

But you remembered John Elway wanted to win so bad at 37 years old that he would dive for the end zone. That's what track and field needs again, it's lost that. Track and field has gotten to where it's so concerned with what the times are that they forget about diving. I remember Suzy Favor running and falling across the line in the 800.

Or Mary Decker stumbling to finish the marathon.
That's what it's about — the sport's lost that. And to me, that's what's going to bring track and field back. Not times, not performances, but people who are clean and have a lot of heart. With the team that I coach, I try to teach them integrity, respect, and also how to speak properly. I'm in a unique situation because the athletes can't tell me, 'I'm all that' because you know what, I already won nine. It's hard work and discipline. The athlete that has the biggest heart is the one that's going to stand out in the Olympics. No matter what country they're from.

You say track's hit rock bottom, how do you clean it up?
I'm not a genius, but I think I know what the deal is. We no longer fund physical education in schools. Everyone knows that you learn the most amazing lessons playing as a kid. When I was a kid, we used to do pickup games or whatever. We'd fight like cats and dogs and the next day we were best friends. We solved problems. Kids don't interact, they don't play. Therefore, they're not participating in sports and they don't learn the lessons of sports — teamwork, dedication, hard work. I took a baton from people in the Olympics I couldn't stand. But, you know what? For those few minutes, they were my best friends. Ultimately, our relationship was changed because we had to work together. Every child in America needs physical education, they need exercise, they need breakfast. If we did that, trust me, there would be a dramatic change in drug use and everything else because kids would learn ethics and competition and that would stick with them the rest of their lives.

You look like you're still in pretty good shape. What do you do to stay fit?
I have a gym at home where I train. I also stay fit through a healthy diet. I do everything. I love to work outside in the yard, and I have two big dogs to keep me busy. I like to cycle, play basketball, and hit tennis balls too. I was raised by two parents who were both coaches, so I participated in just about every sport: swimming, basketball, tennis, whatever. I really believe in actively participating. I think its one of the things we're missing with kids now.

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How the Olympics Changed the World

Each Monday, this column turns a page in history to explore the discoveries, events and people that continue to affect the history being made today.

Just 241 men from 14 countries competed at the first-ever modern Olympic Games in 1896 — their jumps, sprints and front crawls reigniting an institution with roots more than two millennia old.

Those inaugural Games of the I Olympiad, held in Athens, were considerably less sophisticated than the multibillion-dollar XXIX Summer Olympics about to start in Beijing, China. In 1896, swimming competitions were held out in the open sea and an American who'd never seen a discus before arriving in Greece won the event. A yachting event was scheduled but had to be cancelled when no one thought to show up with boats.

This Aug. 8, almost 11,000 elite athletes from more than 200 countries will march into Beijing's sparkly new National Stadium and compete in 28 disciplines. A fleet of 70,000 volunteers will tend to the events, while almost 6,000 official writers and photographers will broadcast all the athletes' triumphs and defeats around the world.

While the competitors in Beijing will become part of a 112-year-old tradition of sporting excellence, the history of the Olympics is also politically charged, often acting as a showcase for the world's squabbles.

From Hitler's propaganda games to the proposed boycotts of Beijing, the modern Olympics have rarely been staged without controversy or drama that goes beyond the world of sport.

De Coubertin's dream: world peace

Politics has always been a part of the Olympics and was meant to be from day one, contrary to the lamentations of sportswriters.

When French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin proposed reviving a version of the ancient Greek Olympics, he did so with good intentions in mind. The late 19th century had been fraught with international conflict, and the baron saw the Olympics as a way of promoting peace between warring nations alongside the athletic competitions.

This has been the case in many ways, with touching moments of international cooperation speckling the highlight reels. When Cathy Freeman, an Australian Aborigine who won the 400m race in front of a jubilant home crowd in 2000 in Sydney, for example, many historians saw it as a symbol of reconciliation with Australia's native peoples. Or the rousing success of the 1992 games in Barcelona, when Germany competed as a unified nation for the first time since 1964 and post-apartheid South Africa was finally invited back to the Olympics after a 30-year absence.

What de Coubertin probably didn't bet on was how his Olympics would also be hijacked on occasion for more dubious political ends.

Propaganda games and polo brawls

The modern games have seen their share of international incidents:

  • Berlin, 1936: The first games since the end of the Great Depression were meant to be a great celebration of human triumph over adversity. Instead, it became a showcase for Hitler's Third Reich propaganda machine. With Nazism in full swing, American Jesse Owens became an instant hero, winning four gold medals and making a mockery of Hitler's Aryan ideologies.
  • Melbourne, 1952: Tensions were high at the boycott-riddled Melbourne games, which began just three weeks after the Soviet Union invaded Hungary. A full-scale brawl actually broke out during a water polo match between the USSR and Hungary, with police called in to protect the Soviets from the rabid crowd.
  • Munich, 1972: Perhaps the most tragic moment in Olympic history came 10 days into the 1972 games, when eight Palestinian militants broke into the Olympic Village, killing two Israeli athletes immediately and taking nine others hostage, all of whom died soon after in a botched rescue attempt. The games continued.
  • Moscow and Los Angeles, 1980 and 1984: The Soviet and U.S. games era saw two consecutive games marred by tit-for-tat no-shows by the Cold War rivals and their allies. Fifty-six nations refused their Olympic invitations in 1980, while nineteen powerhouse Eastern Bloc countries stayed home in 1984, paving the way for American Carl Lewis to dominate in athletics.

The road to Beijing paved with controversy

When Beijing was awarded the Summer Olympics back in 2001, it was considered a big leap forward for the nation, eager to display its progress on a world stage.

Controversy has marred the lead up to the games, however, with protesters calling for boycotts of Beijing due to China's involvement in Darfur, Sudan, and ongoing tensions in Tibet, not to mention human rights concerns in China itself. Expecting rallies during the event, organizers in Beijing have even set up designated "protest zones" for demonstrators to do their thing without disrupting the Olympics.

History will dissect the politics of the Beijing games once they're done and in the books, but what is a certainty are some dazzling athletic achievements and at least a few feel-good stories.

Enjoy the games!

Never thought we'd see Favre like this

Whatever happens with Brett Favre today, chances are it will only leave you more cynical.

The shame is that, in the not so distant past, Favre was the pure guy, the untouchable, the great teammate who played for the love of the game. Now he shows up in training camp having spent the last few days contemplating how much it would have cost the Packers to keep him retired.

Green Bay didn't meet his price. That doesn't mean he didn't have one, though.

And for most people, that's the real price of this maudlin play, starring Brett Favre as "Redneck Hamlet." He's gone from being an icon to just another superstar, another guy who, despite the most earnest proclamations, puts himself above the team.

You expected this from Manny Ramirez, who dogged his way out of Boston.

Or maybe Kobe Bryant, who demanded a trade after the Lakers didn't deal Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd.

But Favre? The Wrangler man, the virtuous every-man who headbutts his own linemen? The guy who made every football fan in America believe he'd play for free?

Behind scenes talk has Mark Cuban as front-runner for Cubs

Report: Mavs' owner 'lead guy' to buy Cubs

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has gone from being a long shot to one of the favorites in the bidding to buy the Cubs, picking up support from NBA Commissioner David Stern and others as the field of prospective owners narrows.

Crain's Chicago Business recently quoted one of the bidders as saying Cuban is now "the lead guy" in the battle to buy the Cubs, while Boston Red Sox owner John Henry said in an e-mail to the New York Times that he could think of "no one better suited to reverse the fortunes of the Cubs for the long term" than Cuban.

While a Cubs official denied any of the remaining bidders is leading the pack, saying "we're still at the starting gate" in the process, it's apparent Cuban is gaining support in his bid to purchase the club after most figured he never would pass muster with MLB owners.

"I think that's just because he's outspoken," Derrek Lee said, "and people take that the wrong way. But I think if you have David Stern on your side, you must be doing something right."
Most of the Cubs players are in Cuban's corner, especially knowing that every Mavericks players' locker is equipped with a miniaturized version of a home theater system.

"He's doing a great job in Dallas and I'm sure he would come in here and do a good job," Lee said. "He's passionate about winning. That's his main concern—putting a winning product out there—plus he's a lot of fun. He really gets into it. He's not just a guy who throws his money in and is hands-off. He's hands-on and involved, so I think it would be a lot of fun."

Numerous sources have reported Cuban made the top initial bid at $1.3 billion, but the process will continue through the next two months before a winner emerges. Lee said the Cubs players aren't really following the story closely and don't really care who buys the team.

"I think the only thing we care about is that whoever gets it is committed to winning," he said. "We don't want someone coming in here and all they care about is making money and cutting payroll and putting it in his pocket."
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