An occasionally dusted-off blog by M. Scott Smith

Reader Mailbag: My Olympics Commentary 🔗

From time to time, I will take time to respond to the numerous questions or comments I receive from readers via e-mail. Let's get things started right now. Please send me your questions.

I'm waiting.

OK, I've waited long enough. Seeing no questions or comments, I will instead respond to a comment published on the editorial pages of the September 8, 2008 issue of Time magazine. This comment was sent in by Mark Reese, a resident of Salt Lake City:

    "I am happy for Michael Phelps' success in Beijing. But it is not apt to compare Phelps with Mark Spitz and the seven gold medals Spitz earned at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Spitz did not have the technological advantages of superspeedy pools and laser-sleek swimsuits. Nor did Spitz wear a streamlined swimming cap to cover his hair. In fact, he swam those events with a mustache. Spitz won his medals the old-fashioned way. It has taken more than 30 years of innovation and technology for anyone to come close to his Olympic success."

Reading this editorial made my blood boil... when I discovered that Time magazine doesn't so much as send a Time coffee mug to readers who have their comments published. Shame on you, Time, shame on you. Let me say right now: if I publish any comments sent as e-mail from readers of my blog, I will e-mail the readers a high-quality image of a coffee mug. It will look something like this:

Now, let me say that Mark Reese doesn't know what he's talking about. The logic train left the station, and he was left standing on the station platform as it pulled away. And then a pigeon pooped on his head. The pigeons can easily fly right into the train station because the doors are constantly swooshing open with the steady comings and goings of train passengers. It really creates quite an unsanitary situation.

Mr. Reese is comparing apples with oranges. Unless the Chinese invented some kind of time machine that transported Phelps and his high-tech swimming pool and head cap and lack of mustache back to 1972, the number of medals someone wins has nothing to do with the technology, because in any given Olympics year every athlete is competing against each other with the same technology. All of the athletes this year, for example, were swimming in the same superspeedy pool against each other. Yet they didn't all win eight medals.

It is fair to look at world-record times and attribute the improvement to technology; technology can shave an extra millisecond or two off a time. But that's not what Mr. Reese was referring to. He was referring to the number of medals won. And that has nothing to do with the technology, but only how well a given athlete measures up to his or her peers in any given event. For that reason, Michael Phelps deserves the kudos he has received. And I changed my mind; Mr. Reese doesn't deserve a Time coffee mug.

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