Nationalism, Dog Agility, and the Olympics

I didn’t think it was possible but I am kind of Olympicked-out. (There really is no right way to spell that, is there?) I spent so many weeks looking forward to the biggest sporting event to hit television in two years and now I’m kinda underwhelmed. Is there such a thing as too much anticipation?

There is always a point every Olympiad where I start to question the extreme nationalistic aspect of the games. It usually ends up souring me on the concept. I enjoy cheering for athletes from my country as much as anyone but I’ve seen how it can go too far. It makes me wish that countries had nothing to do with the event at all. The media doesn’t help with their almost obsessive displays of medal counts by state. In a time I think humans need to draw closer together, the Olympics sometimes seem only to push us further apart.

This year I think I’ve just reached a place of disenchantment earlier than normal. I can’t say for sure if the badminton scandal has anything to do with these feelings or the gruesome injury sustained by a weightlifter last week. But it bothers me that people will push themselves to such extremes and compromise their principles just to win. Sure, it’s probably the biggest win of one’s life, as far as these things go. The entire world is watching your victory. There is money, fame, sponsorship deals and a myriad of other things at stake. I get that. I guess I can’t really blame the athletes themselves. It’s human to want the kind of  recognition that comes with an Olympic medal.

It’s not the years Olympic athletes spend in training that bother me – I admire the heck out of that. It’s more the total lack of self-preservation, the desire to keep going no matter how injured, the unrelenting pressure to prove oneself over and over again while putting one’s physical health in serious jeopardy. Not to mention to levels to which people will stoop in order to win at all costs. It eventually gets hard for me to watch.

I am not going to stage a protest; I am not against the Olympics. The idea! Despite all my protestations I no doubt will be depressed next week when they are over. It is exhilarating to watch people test themselves and realize their dreams. Cheering on my fellow Canadians gives me a sense of pride and cultural identity. I think maybe it is because I enjoy them so much that I feel the need to point out my discomfort.

In the past I have made the argument that dog agility should be in the Olympics. It involves at least as much work by the human as it does by the dog and – in my opinion anyway – is very entertaining to watch. At any level agility can be a very intense and competitive sport and athletes – if I may call them that – participate in all parts of the world. It requires years of training and honing one’s skills, especially on the human’s part. An experienced handler can run a green dog but an experienced dog can prove difficult for a green handler. In many ways I think it would make a terrific Olympic event.

However, my feelings of concern for the fanatical approach many Olympic athletes display make me relieved there are very few sports involving animals in the Olympic games. It’s one thing when a person chooses to push themselves over the edge in pursuit of a gold medal but another when they push an animal. Agility is a frustrating sport. I’ve talked about that a lot. I’ve not participated in an agility trial yet myself (one week!!!) but I’ve read many accounts of competitors who take things just a little too far with their dogs. If this kind of thing occurs at the local level, I can only imagine the pressure one would feel if the entire planet is watching.

Not that I wouldn’t be glued to the television set, along with everyone else.  

To be clear, I am in no way suggesting that the current equestrian events are animal cruelty or that this is even a remote concern. The animal-related sports in the modern Olympics are ones that I am sure the animals enjoy doing. I have full confidence that most of the riders love their horses as much as they love the sport. Probably more.

I certainly don’t want to start another horse-related debate here.

But I am saying that it is something that makes me cautious. Perhaps it would be best if dog agility remained out of the Olympic roster. Well, at least until I am good enough to make a medal run of my own.

Do you enjoy watching the Olympics? Have you ever felt any nigglings of worry when it comes to specific events?

*First image via BiblioArchives, featuring Canadian athlete Ethel Catherwood. Second image via Wilson Hui, featuring show jumping at Spruce Meadows.

18 thoughts on “Nationalism, Dog Agility, and the Olympics

  1. I’ve been very disappointed with the coverage my local network has been providing. Most of the events I wish to watch aren’t broadcast until very late in the evening. We do however have that wonderful “On Demand” feature so we can go back through and check out what we missed.

    I sometimes feel bad for the younger athletes being pushed by their parents. There was a USA girl (I think gymnastics) and her mother was so obnoxious in the crowd I thought, “that poor girl does she have no wiggle room from perfect?”

    I really don’t care to watch the events with the animals, it’s just not my thing, mostly because of the relentless way people approach winning. The animal could care less if it wins a gold medal.


  2. Speaking as someone who’s actually worked for one of the guys who showed a horse at the olympics this year (and nine before!) I can tell you some very questionable things get done in order to make a horse competitive. But I can also tell you that the horses that are truly competitive (with any longevity), don’t usually need those extreme measures. Also, the sheer level of care that they get is astounding. I took care of a horse that got two hours of physio every day that he competed, and that horse would throw a tantrum every time he had a rail—he absolutely loved being in the ring. Also, at that level there’s so much scrutiny over what you do with your horse (like, unless they’re in their stall they can’t be out of sight of an FEI official) that cheating is getting pretty difficult (which is great and should not ever change).
    The problem in my book is that the system is getting a bit ridiculous. My heart goes out to poor Tiffany Foster loosing her dream over a SCRATCH. Horses get nicks on them every day—if they’re going to disqualify her they need to disqualify everybody. I find it equality stupid that the vet that disqualified her said he would have scratched his horse and put it on antibiotics. Could you imaging doing that to your dog every time it got a scratch? They wouldn’t have an immune system left.
    That situation is especially ridiculous when you here about these sorts of things and realize how easy it is to buy your way into the Olympics. I remember watching the rider she talks about for the second half of the post in the individual competition yesterday and trying to figure out why he was there (it’s a miracle he wasn’t ejected from the tack over EVERY SINGLE JUMP. I sure hope his horse got a wheelbarrow of carrots later for saving his ass) and after reading that post I finally have my answer. The fact that his team got a Bronze makes my head spin.
    Basically, it’s regulation without sense that’s damaging the sport at this point, but I should point out that it isn’t the Olympic regulating the equestrian events, it’s the FEI which is an entirely different organization. Maybe that should change.


  3. Y’know, I enjoy watching Olympics but not just from the standpoint of nationalism or pride. There are many sports that are rarely, if ever, aired on tv other than during the Olympics that I love watching so I take advantage of watching, regardless who is playing/winning–swimming, diving, rhythmic gymnastics , sync. swimming, water polo, etc. I watch it because I really just enjoy the sports and seeing the best in the world compete.

    Y’know, part of me really wants to watch the equestrian events and sometimes I do (because I’ve long been a horse fan and took 4 years of dressage lessons), but I don’t love some of the negative things I see with riders having a bad round like sulking and not even thanking the horse for the big effort.


  4. I always root for the underdog, not my own country. Is that treason? Yikes, I think they could kill me for that.


  5. I have not watched one minute of coverage. Hunt test season. Too busy. I wish I had time to watch the equestrian events. There us something wonderful about watching an animal do what it was bred to do. The winter Olympics are more my style since I have the time.

    But in general, I don’t see too much wrong with a person pushing themselves toward a goal. I think to some extent, mediocre is just an accepted norm these days. It is refreshing to see young adults devoted to something other than the latest vampire/super hero movie.


  6. I think the low-Olympic moment this year for me was the Gymnastics tie-breakers. I mean, they’re (for the most part) *little girls.* What on earth would it hurt to give out two bronze medals?

    As for equestrian events, I haven’t been watching them because I’m so clueless. I watched about five minutes of dressage before I realized that I had no idea what was going on, what the deductions were, and what the goal was. And that’s coming from someone who has watched a lot of weird sports.


  7. The Olympics will always be a magic time for me. I’ve learned to watch and enjoy so many new events (Yes, we all have grown to love curling down here, even though we don’t totally get it) and to meet so many fascinating Olympians who are inspiring with their life stories. The medal count gets a little tiresome, but I guess that is just part of the competitive nature of the Olympics. And I believe competition makes us perform better.

    I love to see the little countries with a few or even one athlete represented. I love that all the countries have at least one woman athlete. I’m always afraid that one of the horses will fall, so I avoid watching them, but I would watch anything with dogs in it. 🙂


  8. I may be shot here – but I don’t watch the Olympics. I think the last time I did was in the 80’s. It’s overplayed, and “news” is someone’s facial expression among a list of other ridiculous things. Really?

    While I do admire these athletes that work so hard, you are right that it is troubling to observe how so many will try to win at all costs – even if it means doing unethical things. I have no problem with someone wanting to push themselves physically even at the risk of injury – that’s sort of a given in a sport. But to be low enough to try and cheat your way to gold? That’s really despicable.


  9. I’ve only caught the highlights via most of my friends sharing stuff on Facebook and YouTube. Like Blueberry’s human, we just don’t watch and like 2 brown dawgs, we just don’t have time. I admire the ability of some athletes and certainly the dedication of these Olympians, we just don’t really do sports in our house. (We’re geeks, not athletes. 😉

    I’m torn about the animal events. I love watching animals in action but I know so much bad stuff about the goings on now that I am, by default, wary of them.


  10. We watch very little of the Olympics. Maybe an event or two, but I do find it better to watch without the sound on. Where you can really just focus on the race, the skilled athletes and the spirit of the competition. I used to be an avid runner and love the track races. My highlight are the gymnasts, but they scare me as well. Being so young and can injury so easy, especially on the beam. That scared the crap out of me every time. I can not imagine how grueling their schedules must be or the state of competition that must always perform in order to win. I’d break in a heartbeat. 🙂

    The whole be the best you can be and then be better than that is pretty frightening if you ask me. I’d never watch any animal sports just because of it.


  11. Of course I watched my favourite things … gymnastics, badminton and some track and field. But I’m one of those wet blankets who think the Olympics is a big waste of money that could be better spent on doing some good in the world. I’m also very glad that they’ve disallowed things like super fish suits for the swimmers. I’ve always thought it grossly unfair for the poorer nations. There is no level playing field in the Olympics.


  12. Hi Kristine, we get nervous whenever an animal is involved in a competition or a show and more so when there are people involved. So whether that’s in the Olympics, Calgary Stampede, circus, aquarium or agility. While we are not against such things, we chose to not watch or participate in certain events or shows. We do do agility, well my sheltie brother and sister do, but my peeps have always, without exception, been mindful that they are out for fun and not ribbons or the highly coveted “Q”. And while they and we Spaniels have won ribbons, my mom and dad are always grateful and thankful when we’re all back home at the end of the day, safe, tired, happy and unhurt. That’s a perfect day.


  13. I don’t watch the Olympics. Quite frankly I can’t stand them. I think it’s a waste of time, money and energy that could be put to much better use. I hate the “holy then thou” attitude, and I think it just makes for a bunch of egomaniacs.
    Sorry, the Olympics get under my skin like nothing else 🙂
    Nola’s Mom


  14. I have been hooked on the Olympics this year, I actually just got done watching volleyball. It’s funny because I was thinking a similar thought as I heard the announcer mention some of the injuries that a few of the athletes were dealing with. It seems like every sport I watch during these games someone is dealing with an injury but yet here they are pushing the limits.


  15. I enjoy watching the Olympics and we have been staying up every night to catch our favorites (track, gymnastics). I enjoy seeing the amazing things that these people accomplish, but I haven’t watched any events that involve animals (probably because I don’t really understand them). I don’t really enjoy the over done opening ceremonies and I think it’s a whole lot of hoopla at a huge expense, but that’s just my opinion – I guess plenty of people enjoy it!


  16. I *love* watching the Olympics!!! Every morning I have my first cup of coffee and watch whatever event is on. I’m going to miss it next week when it’s back to regular TV 😦

    I saw the weightlifter dislocate his elbow, live. Yucky to say the least.


  17. I was very excited when I heard the Olympics would be live streamed. Then I discovered I could only watch if I subscribed to cable television. Which got me going on a rant about media consolidation, blah, blah, blah.

    I too have mixed feelings about the events but love watching the amazing performances. Here are two links you might enjoy in your post Olympic letdown: although Canadians are not as badly behaved on the world stage as Americans, I know you’ll understand the impact of this image–

    And this one is just for laughs:


Comments are closed.