I grew up watching the Olympics during the Cold War. The Olympic games to me were as much a competition between athletes as it was a battle between Democracy and the Communist Block. It was, in fact, an epic conflict driven by propaganda, heavily promoted by both sides.
As a young boy fascinated by superheroes and comic books, the athletes easily grabbed my attention. They were living super heroes! They were the fastest, strongest, most agile, determined men and women on the planet competing head-to-head in a war of good verses evil on a global stage. Like superheroes their uniforms were emblazoned with logos and distinct colors that identified their allegiance to the flag of their country.
Every competition played out like an adventure from a comic book. Each athlete was a character with a unique story and a goal, motivated by love of country and principles of political righteousness and good sportsmanship. Their struggles unfolded before our eyes as the tension of suspense played out to the tune of the Olympic anthem and climaxed with “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
There is a sense of life-and-death finality to the results of the Olympic games that make the drama so great. For most of the athletes, their dream to win a gold medal and stand atop the podium representing their country is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Few get the chance to redeem a failure since the Olympic games occur only every four years, closing the window of peak performance for even the greatest athletes. At least for the athletic careers of many of the competitors, winning the gold requires a do-or-die mentality that adds to the heroism of their efforts.
Even the setting of the Olympics is an environment of futuristic fantasy. The host city of every Olympic game spares no expense to create a sporting plaza that exceeds the expectations of modern technology. Arenas with state of the art architecture and technology, built to accommodate a one-time audience that gathers from around the world creating the illusion of a global, peace-loving community. Behind the scenes however always lies the intrigue of threat from terrorists, protestors and criminal minds focused on using the visibility of the Olympics to draw attention to their heinous acts.
The parallel perspective of athletes to superheroes dates back to the mythological origins of the ancient Greek games heralding the battle between the great gods Zeus and Kronos for dominance of the world and the adventures of the demi-god Hercules who it is said was the only contestant at the first Olympic games though he did manage to wrestle his father, Zeus to a draw.
Today’s Olympic athletes are faster, leaner, stronger than those that I watched as a child. Advances in media technology give audiences of the world a high definition view of every ripple in their muscles, every bead of sweat on their brow and every fiber in their aerodynamic uniforms that have changed dramatically since the modern Olympic games have begun.
Today’s athlete’s uniforms make them look more like characters from comic books than ever before with shiny, tight and skimpy designs made to enhance their performances. Olympic athletes and photographers even find ways to prove that the popular comic book device known as the broke back pose is possible to achieve. The vast audiences prove that the Olympics and their many sponsors have not forgotten how to use sex successfully as a marketing tool.
With all of the similarities between the Olympics and super hero comic books it would be nice if the millions of people that are watching the Olympics world-wide would saunter over to a local comic shop and discover for themselves that the widely considered small niche market of super hero comics may have a broader appeal than the general public suspects. It may not be just a small male demographic that enjoys looking at muscles, defined figures, sexy images, and thrilling to adventurous competition focused on world dominance after all. Just keep that Olympic torch out of the comic shop please.
Enjoy the games. Let the comics begin!