Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Touching a Nerve: More Reader Mail

After peaking at slightly more than 50,000 visits on Thursday, traffic here on DFL is starting to ease off a bit. Clearly this little project has touched a bigger nerve than I had expected. From reading your comments (thank you) and the blogs -- more than 130 of them at this point -- that have linked to this site (thank you), I'm getting a sense of why.

There's an awful lot of cynicism about the Olympics these days: it's not just the drugs and doping and the judging scandals, it's the laser-like focus on winning, the strutting of the victors, the lucrative sponsorship deals, the excessive expectations. Many of us have become battle-hardened, turned off by the glitz and the money and the corruption. Some readers have said that this blog has made the Olympics watchable again. Wow.

Other readers come from a different perspective: in the shadow of the glitz and the money, they feel their athletes -- and by extension, their countries -- are the perennial underdogs. If the focus on the Olympic story is solely on the winners -- or on the more colourful, "oddball" last-placers -- then these stories never get told. In that sense, maybe, this blog is more inclusive.

I'll start with an e-mail from Mary in California:
Just a note to thank you for the blog postings. I understand what you're doing and it's not only laudable, it's a lovely gesture to those who might not get more than a passing sympathetic glance from the golden boys and girls and the media. I noticed, also, that reading the results of last place finishers requires quite a bit of effort; as an American and a journalist I'm used to scanning for the "pertinent" bits, who won, how fast were they, and all that truck. Your blog forced me to slow down and actually savor the feats of these DFLs, which they deserve. Just getting to the Olympics requires dedication and training and a level of commitment I can appreciate, if not emulate!
I've received some e-mail from China. Zhangjun writes: "I'm glad to see what you've done. All the athletes should be respected." And Phoebe writes:
I got to know that you made a list of the last athletes in Athens from Chinese website. Well done! We do need to pay attention to those heroes as well. Thank you for doing this.
Sarah writes,
This is an awesome view of the Olympics. Definitely makes it more interesting to watch them now instead of just the winners you got the DFLs. You should honor them by inviting them to a special club or something.
But would they accept? (I haven't heard from any Olympic athletes -- I really hope I've given no one serious offence.)

I thought Cris's e-mail was particularly thoughtful, and not just because nice things are being said about me:
It's funny -- the DFL finisher represents a strange paradox of being at once laughable and dignified. You're right: the spirit of the Games often lies somewhere toward the middle or back of the pack, and considering the sad state of affairs in many nations around the world, it is remarkable that some athletes can represent their countries at all. Your blog puts a clever spin on the way we look at sporting, and somehow we can identify with -- or even envy -- the obscure athlete who competes for the love of the sport and comes closer to glory than most any of us will.
Katie in Cape Town, South Africa:
Not many of us will ever see the Olympic Games from an athlete's perspective and I agree that just being selected and finishing an event is a major achievement. Our country has done OK and I've tried to watch as many of our athletes as possible. Wish I was actually there cheering them on! Congratulations on understanding the "Olympic Spirit" and bringing nations of the world together!
I liked the following e-mail so much I read it on the air when I appeared live on CBC Newsworld yesterday (more on which anon). Koffi Brou Brigitte writes from Côte d'Ivoire (which we in the English-speaking world used to call the Ivory Coast):
I come from Côte d'Ivoire, a little country of Africa. I speak English a little bit, but I understand your fight. Our athletes will return home without any medal. Thank you for all the unknowns, and BRAVO.
Allan Hewitson, a Canadian by his ISP, writes,
What a unique idea -- and keep it up. Your BBC comment that finishing last in the Olympics is better than most of us could do, is, of course the real issue. I take the Games seriously because so many of the participants put so much of their lives into their sports and events. But I maintain my philosophy that there's very little so totally tasteless that you can't get a laugh out of it. This is one of these things.
And finally, another damn Canadian: Gary O'Brien, who lives about an hour away from me in Hull, Quebec, writes,
I followed the link from today's edition of La Presse (Aug. 27) and was quite happy to find such a site. The Olympic Games (esp. athletics) always have great stories, and many involve the non winners, and it is great to follow them in such a way. Bravo and congratulations for your dedication.
Thanks for writing, everyone. I appreciate it very much.

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