The Paradox of a Paragon of Virtue

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By Sally Jenkins
Friday, August 22, 2008


I am Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, and ordinarily I am a man of perfect repose. My eyeglasses are without a smudge; my hair is impervious. As the American author Mark Twain once wrote, "The weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire." I am supremely confident of my virtue. It has been tested in many regattas.

For years now I have worked tirelessly to fashion the Olympics into an event in which it's possible to completely avoid ethical responsibility. I've used my skills as a yachtsman, member of the Belgian knighthood, and an impeccable wearer of blazers and boat shoes, to avoid a principled stand on any subject. It therefore grieves me to say that 10 days into the Beijing Games, I have met with a matter of the utmost seriousness: the unfortunate expressions of joy by Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, after winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes. This is truly an Olympic crisis.

It's one thing for the Chinese government to jail dissidents, to forge the passports of underage gymnasts, and to set up official protest zones and then arrest anyone who applied to use them. These are matters that I met with disciplined silence, or as I so adroitly put it, with "quiet diplomacy." But I cannot ignore Bolt's disturbing spontaneity. Him, I feel compelled to rebuke.

"That's not the way we perceive being a champion," I said, after Bolt had completed his unprecedented feat of world records in both of the sprint events.

I was so scandalized as Bolt shimmied, posed, and chanted, "I am number one!" that when reporters came to ask me for a comment on his historical accomplishment, I could not recognize it without adding my personal criticism. I offered him some sound and useful advice on how to conduct himself, a product of my mature consideration after so many years as an Olympic athlete myself, sailing in the Finn class.

"I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters," I said.

May I offer a further suggestion? For lessons in comportment, Bolt might study how our IOC representatives behaved when they attended one of the most important events of the Beijing Games, staged by a vital corporate partner: the McDonald's build-a-hamburger contest.

Some people might ask what separates Bolt from other athletes who have celebrated unselfconsciously here. American sprinter Shawn Crawford said: "If you know you put in the work, you're going to dance and celebrate and pop some bottles. I don't think that's disrespectful."

How is he different, for instance, from the U.S. women's beach volleyball team, which shrieked, hugged each other, cavorted, and fell about in the sand for several minutes, before congratulating its opponents?

Isn't it obvious? They are women in bikinis.

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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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