World-record-holding swimmer Ryan Lochte recently admitted he made a big mistake in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “I had a girlfriend.” Lochte says he’s single now, “so London should be really good.” Not true. Olympic athletes trolling for sex might be an unfamiliar story, but it’s not good. It puts the games at risk of disappearing altogether.
Today’s edition of ESPN The Magazine (the “Body Issue”) exposes a hidden story at the Olympics. It’s condos and condoms. For instance, it is reported that at the 2000 Sydney Games, 70,000 condoms were not enough. Olympic officials had to rush order an additional 20,000 prophylactics for the athletes. Josh Lakatos, a U.S. athlete in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney described the Olympic Village as a “friggin’ brothel.” “I’ve never witnessed so much debauchery in my entire life.” For the London Games, officials established a new standing order of 100,000 condoms per Olympics.
“It’s like the first day of college,” says water polo captain Tony Azevedo. “Everyone’s meeting people and trying to hook up with someone.” American shot-putter and medalist John Godina said the games are “like Vegas. You learn not to ask a lot of questions.” The hormonal hunt begins in the dining hall, which reminded Julie Foudy of a high school cafeteria, “except everyone’s beautiful.” Foudy won two golds and one silver from playing soccer in three Olympics and is now an analyst for ESPN. “We’d graze over our food for hours watching all the eye candy, wondering why I got married.”
The Olympics is “a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says American soccer goalie Hope Solo, so “you want to build memories, whether it’s sexual, or on the field. I’ve seen people having sex right out in the open. On the grass, between buildings, people are getting down and dirty.” Small wonder NBC won’t include these heats in their +5,000 hours of network coverage. But you can see the aftereffects in the closing ceremony.
Soccer player Brandi Chastain says the closing ceremony is the last opportunity to “just go for it, party hard, get drunk and do some groping.” Olympic officials try to maintain order, but Hope Solo describes it as the last chance “to let loose.” She recounts how, after the Beijing Games, the soccer women barely made it around the track. Later, many of them bared all for Hollywood celebrities. The next day, at 7am, with no sleep, they went on the Today show drunk. “Needless to say, we looked like hell.”
That’s a telling comment. In the 2011 film “Shame,” Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a young New York executive who is addicted to casual sex, prostitutes and porn. But it’s not a sexy movie. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian (UK) called it a nightmarish and laugh-free story about neurosis and dysfunction. Brandon’s “addiction is strip-mining his personality of all recognizable human impulses. He is living in a hell.”
That’s how zombies live – if you can call it living. Zombies are the living dead. They can appear to be attractive or athletic but the lure of lust is gutting their soul. I wouldn’t recommend watching “Shame,” but do recommend catching the same sad saga in Proverbs 7, where hunting for sex hollows out a young man.
The story begins with a writer “watching the mindless crowd” stroll by.1 He wonders how this happens and spots a young zombie “without any sense.” He learns this senseless man isn’t strolling. He’s out trolling for sex. He meets a “smooth-talking, honey-tongued woman.” They share deep kisses. She tells him her bed is ready and waiting. Her husband is out of town. “Come, let’s make love all night, spend the night in ecstatic lovemaking!” It’s a death trap. He’s “like a calf led to the butcher shop, like a stag lured into ambush and then shot with an arrow, like a bird flying into a net, not knowing that its flying life is over.” The young man has entered a “halfway house to hell.” He’s a walking zombie – what many Olympic athletes look like at the closing ceremony.
The tragedy of grabbing and groping at the closing ceremony is that it was designed by the Baron de Coubertin to demonstrate that “the moral influence of physical culture” could improve the world. In Smithsonian magazine, Frank Deford recounts de Coubertin’s work in first reviving the games in 1896 in Athens. In the 1908 London Games he added opening and closing ceremonies to celebrate virtuous athletes. The stadium scoreboard featured a maxim that de Coubertin had appropriated from an American clergyman. “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
This doesn’t seem to be the essential thing for Lochte – but it is for Olympics athlete Lori ‘Lolo’ Jones. On May 22nd of this year, in an interview with Greg Gumbel on HBO, Jones revealed she is a virgin. She spoke candidly about the challenges of saving herself for her hoped for husband. The odds are good that Jones will be sober as she walks in the closing ceremony. The same can’t be said for athletes like Lochte and Solo.
At the end of the day, Lochte’s mistake is not in having a girlfriend in Beijing. His error is forgetting why the original Olympic Games disappeared in AD 393. It was the fault of Nero, who made a debauchery of them. Zombies don’t know this. If athletes like Lochte treat the games as a “really good” opportunity to troll for sex, they’re acting like zombies, putting the Olympic Games at risk of disappearing once again.
1 This translation of Proverbs is drawn from Eugene Peterson’s The Message.