Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

Olympic dreams and nightmares

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Spotting the IOC delegates is much harder. The only overt tip-off is the lingering handshake, overly long, often accompanied by the telltale ‘elbow touch’ and followed naturally, nonchalantly by a quick thrust into a convenient jacket pocket, shopping bag, safe-deposit box. So smooth, so practiced.

Outside the Hilton, ground zero for the coming thrill of victory and agony of defeat, a band of Rumanian gypsies engage in the quaint, cultural custom of dwarf tossing. The gathering crowd is amused at the sight and many wonder aloud if this is some kind of protest to have dwarf tossing added to the summer Olympics at least as a demonstration sport.

The spectacle diverts attention long enough to allow non-performing members of the band a chance to practice their other quaint, cultural custom – picking pockets. Slim pickin’s here, Canadian culture has seeped deeply enough into my psyche to make me purchase not only travelers’ cheques but insurance for them as well. The couple of Czech Crowns rattling around my pocket wouldn’t buy a decent glass of beer.

The Suits seem out of place in Prague. The city is a gay – you know what I mean – confection of Old World architecture, New Age sensibilities, leftovers of the Velvet Revolution and palpable aching to find a stride in the new world order. It may be the only place in the world one can hear random strains of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention playing in public places.

It’s more than a little scary to wonder how the ideas of such a warped musician might have informed a visionary playwright to create a modern democracy out of a subjugated satellite of the former Soviet Union.

The presentations begin. More than a few IOC delegates gasp in wonderment. "Who knew Korea even had ski resorts," I overhear one of the African delegates say.

Truth be told, about half the IOC detest ice and snow and winter in general. The winter games are a poor relation to the summer games and if it weren’t for the free food and drink and ‘gift bags’ from competing countries, most of them would stay at home and not even bother voting the way they’re told.

Salzburg is over the top. Part Sound of Music , part Rocky Horror Picture Show , the presentation leaves two-thirds of the gathered delegates and observers unconscious, knocked out by a barrage of clichés and suffering sugar shock from intravenous ministrations of Sacher tort. How do you spell schnitzel? Who cares? The fix is in. No Europe in 2010, that’s reserved for 2012.