Last year, there was talk that Iran would boycott the Olympics due to Israel's inclusion in the Games (and the Iranian government's belief that Israel is trying to spread Zionism and take over the world). Then Iran decided it would participate on the condition that its athletes would not compete against any Israeli athletes. Islamic Republic of Iran Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Mohammad Abbasi went so far as to say, "Not competing with the Zionist athletes is one of the values and prides of the Iranian athletes and nation."
After an IOC warning that "any Olympic athlete who deliberately boycotts a competition in which he or she would have faced an Israeli opponent will be punished," the 2012 Iranian delegation promised to play nice. But before the only potential Iran-Israel showdown, Iranian judoka Javad Mahjoob came down with "digestive system infection" and withdrew from the Games.
Iran's complaints about Israeli influence at the Olympics extends to the Games' 2012 London logo, which government officials claim looks like the word "ZION." Iran's Press TV website claims that "it keeps reminding people of the racial imagery of Nazi Germany or of Zionism rather than British culture or history."
One other reason the logo might have those (conflicting) connotations? In a bad Photoshop job, the Press TV folks have altered the 2012 logo so that it clearly spells out "ZION"-with a swastika in the "O".
The New Zealand Herald has the exact figures: New Zealand's gold medalists are awarded (in $NZD) $60,000, while silver and bronze medalists come away with $55,000. That comes out to US $48,618 and $44,566 respectively, better than the $31,000 for gold, $18,000 for silver and $12,000 for bronze that members of Team USA can earn.
Though Olympic athletes were traditionally unpaid amateurs, the distinction between amateur and professional was officially written out of the Olympic rulebook in 1986. After that, it was a small step to economic incentives for medal-winning performances.
New Zealand (which officially calls the cash prizes "Performance-Enhancing Grants") pays well, but, as the New Zealand Herald notes, it isn't even in the top three. In Singapore, a gold medal nets you a (heavily-taxed) million dollars, while Malaysia and the Philippines offer $400,000 and $380,000 each. Worth remembering: those countries never actually win gold—Singapore has two bronze medals (for which they paid $500,000 in prizes), Malaysia has a silver and a bronze, and the Philippines is off the hook entirely, having won no medals in London. Cash incentives tend to drop with the likelihood that a delegation brings home any medals; for all it's generosity, New Zealand has only parted with $457,816. Among traditional sports powers, Russia is most generous, giving out $167,000 for each gold.
If you think there's something distasteful about paying for performance in this way (as opposed to paying athletes with contracts or not at all), you aren't alone: a sports historian quoted by Reuters said, "Cash incentives are just an incentive to cheat." For its part, India wants in: an editorial in the Times of India argues that India ought to be proactive and create cash incentives—though the editorial also notes, "Maybe India is not really interested in Olympics gold because the discs are only gilt anyway. China may think spending $3 billion on training athletes is fine—they did so for the Athens Olympics, which worked out to $50 million per medal won there—but India is smarter."
The Kenyans usually comprise one of the strongest distance running teams at the summer Olympics, and this year was supposed to be no different. With three talented runners participating in the men's 1500m on Tuesday, it was assumed by many that Kenya would come away with at least one, and possibly many, medals from the event. Unfortunately, all three participants from Kenya performed miserably, as Silas Kiplagat finished seventh, Nixon Kiplimo Chepseba finished 11th, and Asbel Kiprop finished 12th.
Omulo Okothin of Kenya's Standard Digital smells a rat: "Did the Kenyan 1,500m team throw away the race on Tuesday evening? And are the poor performances we are witnessing here a red herring? Is there something else that is not coming out yet, but is responsible for what we are seeing here? These are the questions that emerged after the three Kenyans made a fool of themselves."
Okothin goes on to speculate that a rift between Kiprop and the National Olympic Committee of Kenya may have brought a lack of unity and discord to the team, and floats a few other conspiracy theories before demanding an investigation into the performance. It's hard to imagine that an inquiry into Kenya's flop in the 1500m would reveal anything more than, "These guys ran poorly," but it is also nice to see that the American media aren't the only ones who turn reactionary and illogical in the face of an unexpected defeat.
One Israeli with a shot at a medal isn't competing for Israel, but he's willing to give the team advice. David Blatt is the American-Israeli coach of the Russian men's basketball team, which is still in the running for a medal. (Israel's only hopes for a medal of its own lie in tomorrow's rhythmic gymnastics event.)
Blatt's success has him thinking he knows what Israel needs to do to win more medals. "Coaches and the systems standing behind the athletes are no less important than the athletes themselves," he told Haaretz.
Having played and coached professionally in Israel for more than 20 years, Blatt says he considers himself a product of the country's athletic system. But since he was born in the US, and has coached in Russia for a while, he has plenty of knowledge of the way other nations train their athletes.
Blatt's advice to Israel boils down to two main points: find good coaches, and find good parents. "(Blatt) says [good parenting] is connected both to learning various branches of sport as well as education," Merav Michaeli wrote for Haaretz. "He says children should learn to grow up both in their home and in their sport the way athletes should be."
But Blatt also realizes that no matter how well-trained Israeli athletes are, there are certain sports that just won't bring them Olympic glory. "Let's be honest," he said. "There are sports that are appropriate for our people and there are other things that aren't."
Transport for London (TfL), the Olympic host's massive transportation agency, took a lot of flack for supposedly confusing motorists with its "Games Lanes"—30 miles of roads designated for use solely by athletes, judges, sponsors and members of the media while the Olympics are in session (or as The Telegraph termed it, "members of the 'Olympic family'"). Some locals have, less than affectionately, nicknamed them 'Zil' lanes, in homage to lanes reserved for political leaders in Soviet-era Moscow.
While congestion in London has, by most accounts, barely budged (or even declined) during the Games, TfL is apprently serious about getting motorists to comply. The agency has ticketed almost 2,500 drivers for Olympic lanes violations, the Independent reports—though it also claims a 98% compliance rate. A TfL spokesman told the Indpendent that the agency "has no interest in unnecessarily penalizing drivers."
What the Daily Mail termed a "huge haul of tickets" has netted TfL just £312,000 ($488,000), a pittance in public-expenditure terms. If TfL was, somehow, looking to net some gold from the Games Lanes, it hasn't done a very good job.
Kate Bennert, Isaac Rauch, Dan Gartland, Vincent Valk and Tom Ley contributed to this article.
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