The four-year wait between the festivals in ancient Olympia was called an Olympiad. The prestigious Games were held at the culmination of the Olympiad.
The Olympics were especially popular among the Greeks because of the respite they provided from the ancient world's conflicts and for the guarantees of free passage to Olympia to watch the athletic contests or to participate in conflict-resolving peaceful gatherings. Reflections of such magnificent potential lit the torch of Pierre de Coubertin's modern Olympics as well, although they have never quite lived up to it.
In my opinion, the International Olympic Committee's recent vote severely dimmed Olympic illumination. It might even have been a knockout blow to Olympic uniqueness. After their last hurrah in 1992, the Winter and the Summer Olympics, split two years apart, will run separate Olympic cycles, chasing each other, I predict, into mediocrity.
The overt reasoning for the vote revolved around money. Spreading the costs, according to a part of the explanation, will bring financial savings to the national Olympic committees.
This is the first time I have heard that anyone saved money by having to set up two, instead of one, completely new administrative and service procedures for countries' Olympic teams. Simple things, such as changes in fashion, or availability of new accessories within the two years after the first part of the Olympics, will cause problems.
It may be argued that the Winter and Summer Games had little in common anyway, but only by those who do not understand how the Olympics have grown through Summer/Winter togetherness.
Despite their expected increase in importance and in the television revenue they generate, the Winter Games will no longer be able to help, or be helped by, the Summer Games. Neither will there be six months of elation generated by two divisions of the same Olympics.
As the skiers, for instance, hurry on to the next scheduled competition, the Winter Games will become just another bead in the rosary of international meets. The Summer Games will start with considerably less excitement when their road is not paved by the spectacles of the Winter Olympics. Soon, they, too, will become just other expensive contests.
I wonder if, perhaps, the subconscious reason behind the Olympic split was a fear of external challenges to Olympic visibility. Perhaps some Olympic leaders sought to duplicate their work every two years so they would not be pushed away from public eye for four years at a time.
If that is the case, the IOC has learned very little from experience. Much of the Olympic strength rests in the Games' exclusiveness.
It is my impression that, economically and socially, the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo and Los Angeles infused the Olympic movement with new vitality. More nations participated in both than ever before.
Of course, the commercial success of both ventures--the business interests that used to be swept under the carpet until the 1984 Olympics acknowledged them elegantly and with honor--invited imitation.
International competition has changed. Great events framed as spectacular entertainment earn handsome awards for the winners and compensate the losers. Disputes between Eastern and Western athletes about proportionate subsidies are laid to rest as they compete for the same paychecks. Career athletes may be the only ones with opportunities to compete in the Olympic Games of the future.
If these trends are not stopped, can any ideals be left that will highlight the uniqueness of the Olympic movement?
International athletic camaraderie and national exhilaration as produced by the Olympics are now also associated with the Goodwill Games and other international events. So now the Olympic planners must examine what else can be offered.
I see the retention of a traditional, single Olympic year every fourth year as the only possibility. And the only way to save the importance of the Olympic movement is to use charisma not only in athletics but in physical, intellectual and spiritual endeavors. Designated cities could hold the sporting Olympics, but one entire continent, or even the rest of the world, could dedicate every fourth year to other spheres.
For example, it is estimated that more than half the people on Earth are completely or nearly illiterate. The Olympics could do something about that. Physical fitness is declining. Here, too, the Olympics can make a difference. World hunger and pollution are also areas that could be addressed.
During the five Olympics in which I competed and the three Olympiads after my retirement, I watched the expansion within the cultural branch of the Olympic movement and how it attempted to express human versatility in the arts.
While I shared my love for the Olympic possibility with youth who did not know how to throw the discus or an opponent in Greco-Roman wrestling, I learned about the Olympian challenges in everyday life. My respect deepened profoundly for the billions of contestants in day-to-day survival.
I believe, therefore, that the IOC's vote was an error, one that ignored the ideal of the ancient Olympics and Pierre de Coubertin's dream of far-reaching Olympic potential.