AUGUST 24, 2004
Motor racing and the Olympics
Former Grand Prix driver Eddie Cheever was watching TV with his daughter the other day when they got into a fight over the remote control. She wanted to watch the Olympic Games and he wanted to watch automobile racing. Cheever ended up asking his daughter whether she would watch racing if the sport was in the Olympic Games.
And that led to a debate as to whether or not car racing should be included in the Games.
"What better venue than the Olympics to determine the best driver in the world?" Cheever argued. "Ever since the first Olympics, man has been competing in athletic endeavours. Be it running, jumping, swimming - we want to know who is best in the world. Driving a race car is an athletic endeavour, and I want to know who is best."
There is no doubt that racing cars is an athletic skill. It is all about reflexes and hand-to-eye coordination and it is physically and mentally draining. You have to be fit. It may not require the strength of a weightlifter or the speed of a sprinter but racing is about pushing back human limits and beating the best. In many respects, Cheever argued, racing is more mentally demanding than any other sport.
"If you make a mistake in most Olympic events, the consequences aren't very severe," Cheever argued. "You might fall down or pull a muscle or lose the competition. In racing, if you make a mistake, there is an immediate physical payment. The downside is not just failing. It's possibly fatal. Because of that consequence alone, it requires an incredible amount of concentration."
Cheever concluded that the practicality of racing at the Olympics would be "nightmarish" because of the different disciplines and machinery involved not only because of the need for different venues (road tracks, ovals, off-road, rallying etc) but there would also be problems over the types of car. Cheever believes that they would have to identical although others disagree, arguing that this could never work and that there is nothing wrong with using Formula 1 as the basis for an event.
The Olympic ideal might once have been about pure competition between amateur sportsmen but that ideal disappeared long ago and the Games are now beset with rampant commercialism. The top athletes are all highly-paid individuals.
The concept that motor racing is not an Olympic-style sport does not hold water because of some of the stranger sports which have been admitted into the Games in recent years, the most obvious examples being synchronised swimming and gymnastic dancing. The argument that motor racing would not be a valid Olympic sport because it involves machinery is also not valid in that sports such as cycling, skiing, rowing, yachting and bobsleigh racing are all based on machinery and technology can give one competitor an advantage over another. One can even argue that horses are not really that different from cars as they can break down or go lame, just as a car can have a mechanical failure or lose a wheel. Thus there is no philosophical argument against motor racing being included in the Olympics and drivers winning gold, silver and bronze medals rather than trophies.
Having an Olympic Grand Prix would also be a big bonus for the motor racing world as it would draw the sport to the attention of viewers who would usually not be interested in watching the sport and could result in a large number of new fans.
The idea of an Olympic Grand Prix is not new with talk of such an idea going back to the early 1990s when there were serious discussions about an Olympic Grand Prix in Barcelona. Of the Olympic Games since then only Athens would not have been able to host a Grand Prix because Atlanta had the potential to use Road Atlanta and Sydney could have used the facility at Eastern Creek. With Olympic Games preparation work involving mammoth amounts of building there is no reason why with a little extra planning a street race could not be built into stadium complexes.
Beijing will host the Olympics in 2008 and there is already work going on building an F1-standard race track and if as expected Paris gets the Games in 2012 it would be the perfect impetus for finance to be put into improving the racing infrastructure in France.
Some might argue that there should then be Olympic medals for oval racing, stock cars, rallying and so on.
Perhaps there should be. But one step at a time.
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