I’ve Been Watching The Olympics

I’ve been watching the Olympics,
Not to see who wins or loses
But to document the progress
Of those stupid cupping bruises

Now, there’s some that call it nonsense,
And it leaves their mouths agape;
Some percentage of these skeptics
Swear by brightly colored tape.

Or the tape is just placebo
Next to cupping, on the list
What you need’s a copper bracelet,
With a magnet, on your wrist.

Funny thing—these all work better
If they’re grossly over-priced!
So I’ll save myself some money
And I’ll put my faith in Christ

It’s the meal I have for supper
It’s my silly pre-game dance
It’s the way I tuck my shirt in…
What it cannot be… is chance.

When the gathered competition
Is the very, very best
I’ll use anything that helps me
Get a leg up on the rest

But… that’s just the thing—It cannot,
Must not, give the upper hand—
If it gave unfair advantage
It would certainly be banned!

All that skill was earned the hard way
Years of practice, real hard work,
And it doesn’t need upstaging
By some superstitious quirk

So I’m watching the Olympics
Not for cupping, tape, or God,
But to celebrate the athletes
And the work they do. How odd.

I really liked an article at Motherboard on the various Olympic placebos. This year it’s cupping (please see Orac on this–only look at the second photo if you are not completely squicked out by horrible injuries caused by cupping); 4 years ago it was brightly colored tape, and before that it was magnets. And there is a substantial literature on the effects of superstitions, pre-performance rituals, and all that fun stuff; bottom line is… well, did you ever watch Dumbo? The magic feather? That’s what cupping is. And just like Dumbo could do it all along… so could Michael Phelps (Hey, he won most of his medals before he started sporting circular bruises).

Anyway, the best comment on all of this had nothing to do with the various placebos. I don’t remember who suggested it (I’ve searched my history–if you know, please let me know so I can credit!), but what the Olympics needs is for every event to include one participant like… well, like me. A normal schlub. So that we can see just how superhuman these athletes really are. They are competing against the best of the best of the best of the best, so the people who come in last place are merely those people who would only beat us normal folk by minutes, rather than hours. (As I write this, the men’s 200 Butterfly swim semifinal just concluded. If I were included in the participants, it would not yet be concluded, and would likely not be concluded until sometime mid next week.)

So yeah, the real message of the cupping bruises is not “oh, look how superstitious these athletes are!”, but “Damn, these people are amazing”. The medalists didn’t win because of cupping, or tape, or magnets, or Jesus. They won because of years (decades) of hard work, dedication, practice, and maybe a bit of chance.


  1. says

    I remember one year when the swimmers were all shaving themselves, to streamline. And, of course, they felt more streamlined so the ones who shaved did a little bit better.

    There is big money in placebo hormone pills, mark my words. Some Placeblerone muscle builder and Phlogistic hormone replacement therapy – that’s what it takes to build the muscle-mass that gets gold!

  2. StevoR says

    They won because of years (decades) of hard work, dedication, practice, and maybe a bit of chance.

    Hopefully you are right; I certainly wish that’s true – but I’m not sure I fully expect it anymore after so many cases of doping and cheating over the years.

    When it comes to the Olympics I must admit I’ve become sadly cynical and jaded. With the number of drug cheats being found, you have to wonder how many are getting away and what we’re not finding out and, given the doubts over who in the sporting circus is performing genuinely fairly versus not-so-much, its all , well, depressing really. I won’t say the winners aren’t all legitimate but then I also feel unsure that any of us besides just some of those directly participating I can be sure whether they are actually legitimate so, yeah.

    I also think there’s a hell of a lot of hype, corruption and dodginess behind the IOC circus masters who I neither trust nor like nor admire. There’s so much money and advertising and junk around it and one can’t help thinking a lot of the money could be better spent on things other than what amounts to recreation – as cheering and unifying and fun as the sports competition can be. Priorities? So I think the Olympics really needs a massive rethink and maybe even just scrapping it altogether. Just my fifty cents worth of non-expert opinion though. Hope I’m wrong and being too cynical.

    And Marcus Ranum is right about the psychology factor here too.

    Great rhyme as always, cheers.

  3. Cuttlefish says

    Mark my words, Marcus Ranum, the next big thing will be Olympian Fecal Transplants. You can have Michael Phelps’s microbiome, or Usain Bolt’s, Simone Biles’s, Ashton Eaton’s, or Michelle Carter’s. Choose your Olympian, pay your fee, and be the absolute shit.

    Of course, if it actually works, it will be banned by the IOC.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    StevoR, my favorites in the games are always those who are there without any real chance. They would still kick my ass from here to Hoboken and back in whatever sport they chose (theirs or any other), but really have no chance at being the headline. They are there for the love of the sport, without major sponsors or chances. I have met two of them; one was my student (I actually saw her today, out for a run while I biked in to work), the other a mom at my daycare. Amazing women, both.

  5. drken says

    Actually Marcus, swimmers still shave themselves. They have been for decades. Not just at the top level either, it;s pretty much everybody from the high school and club level on up. Do you think they’re all just naturally hairless?

  6. Tsotate says

    @StevoR, are you implying that the developers of those drugs aren’t putting in years (even decades) of hard work? Technological arms races don’t just run themselves, you know.

  7. StevoR says

    @7. Tsotate : Hard work for years yeah. Legal and good and right work, not-so-much. Criminals spend a lot of time planning and working on their crimes too -don’t make those right neither. (Well, very, very rarely depending on the circumstances and context as always. Not here though.)


    Okay, I must admit I’ve been sucked in and watching the Olympics too – just saw Aussie Kim Brennan win gold over the USA’s Gevvie Stone and China’s Duan Jingli in womens single sculls rowing . Which as an Aussie boozehound involves a lot less beer than you might think from the name! Also the gymnasts are flipping amazing. (& all respect to them too.) ;-)


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