Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The 2010 Winter Olympics, Russia, and Babies

Before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver started, Russia was expected to do fairly well. In figure skating and ice hockey, anyway. Figure skating's been a sort of Russian specialty since the sixties, when it was the core of the Soviet Union.

That was then, this is now.

From today's news:
"Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for the resignation of the nation's top Olympic officials Monday after the country's worst performance in a Winter Olympics in nearly a hundred years.

"Speaking on state television from his residence outside Moscow, Medvedev put the main blame for Team Russia's failures on sports bureaucrats, whom he called 'fat cats,' and said the country's sports pyramid should be turned upside down.

"Despite infusions of cash, patriotic pep talks and bravado, the Russian team suffered a humiliating blow at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, coming in 11th with three gold, five silver and seven bronze medals. It was Russia's poorest showing since it began competing in the Winter Olympics in 1912...."
The CNN article does a pretty good job, I think, of discussing what happened: and why a nation that's historically sent an effective team to the Olympics, didn't.

Explanations for Russia's 2010 Winter Olympics debacle depend in part on who's doing the explaining:
"...Russian athletes, trainers and sport officials blamed bad luck, lousy weather, equipment failure, echoes of previous doping scandals, judges' bias and other factors for its dismal showing. 'Team Russia has already won gold for the multiple excuses of its losses,' a popular Moscow tabloid scoffed...."
Whatever happened, I don't think it's just one factor. There's a lot going on here. I think the CNN article did a pretty good job of identifying the most likely major factors in Russia's performance - or comparative lack of it - in this year's Winter Olympics.

The fourth paragraph from the bottom has what I think is the 'meat' of the article:
"...Russia's Olympic performance was a ticking time bomb doomed to explode sooner or later, sports analysts have said. The old Soviet infrastructure is rapidly wearing out, including its once-famous sports machine producing record-breaking performances. Many trainers and promising young athletes went abroad in the 1990s when the country was struggling for its economic survival. Finally, fewer babies were born in the past two decades, creating a generation gap for the sports recruitment system...."
I'll repeat that last sentence:
"...Finally, fewer babies were born in the past two decades, creating a generation gap for the sports recruitment system...."
Olympic athletes aren't you average, everyday, run-of-the-mill young man or woman. Training counts, I'm sure. But I'm also pretty sure someone has to start out with potential that's off the 50th percentile.

A personal example: Quite a few people in my family have average-size torsos with short arms and legs. I really don't think we'd make good long-distance runners. On the other hand, one summer my brothers-in-law amused themselves by pushing on trees until the trees fell over. (Don't be too impressed: there'd been a lot of rain, so the soil was wet.)

Bottom line: not everybody is alike.

A small percentage of us have what it takes to be Olympic athletes. And the fewer people you have to work with, the fewer potential Olympic athletes you'll have.

Fewer Olympic Athletes? So What?

I think the world could get by with fewer Olympic-class athletes. We'd be missing something, but we'd survive. The point is that Russia, like quite a few other countries, hasn't been having enough children to replace people who are approaching the end of their lives.

After a while that starts causing problems that go 'way beyond putting together a winning team for the Olympics. Assuming that you think having people around a hundred years from now is a good idea, of course.

People who fix cars, make clothes, raise livestock and help you check out groceries won't live forever. Sooner or later, each of them will be replaced - or not.

There's more to having babies and raising children than utilitarian considerations, long-term societal imperatives and dirty diapers: but this post is on the long side already.

Vaguely-related posts:Why all those posts from Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space? That's the blog where I discuss my efforts at writing speculative fiction. I've been researching what we can and can't do, in terms of feeding and sheltering people. Turns out that we're nowhere near as doomed as the more earnest 'serious thinkers' seem to think we are: but that, once again, is another topic.

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.