Living in the glow of Lake Placid’s Olympic history, it’s been interesting the last few months watching Mitt Romney nudge the Olympics into the political spotlight.
His roll in salvaging the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002 has emerged as one of his major hall-marks, a sign that he can turn around big, complicated enterprises.
Of course, Romney waded into the muddle of Olympic-scale politics this week when he said that he was “disconcerted” by some of the preparations for the London Summer Olympics this year. The comment triggered a firestorm in Britain.
We know, of course, that the Olympics have always had a political dimension. The Miracle On Ice in our backyard was a sporting event, but it was also a pivot point in the Cold War, one of those freeze frames in geopolitical history.
I found a great chronology put together by The Guardian newspaper that captures some of the other political flare-ups, often ones that burned brighter than the Olympic flame itself.
In 1936, African American athlete Jesse Owens thwarted Adolph Hitler’s effort to use the Berlin games as Nazi propaganda, winning four gold medals.
Over the decades that followed, countries boycotted the games again and again (China, the Soviet Union, the US) or were tossed out (South Africa).
In 1964, the final torchbearer chosen for the Tokyo winter games was Yoshinori Sakai, who was born on the day Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb.
The 1972 Munich Games, of course, were marred by violence as Palestinian terrorists attacked the Israeli delegation, killing nine.
This year, the politics are — so far at least — less stark and dramatic, but still significant. Romney’s gaffe is only one manifestation.
Four years after China’s breathtaking games, this is an opportunity for Europe to show that it still has vibrancy and vitality, in the wake of a recession and a financial meltdown that continue to threaten the world economy.
That may be one reason the Brits took Romney’s comments to heart. They know they have a lot to prove and don’t want anyone sniping from the sidelines.