Vinson: Olympic Connection: General MacArthur & Michael Phelps

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The Olympic Games, also referred to as "Olympiad," are held every four years in a different country. Under the International Olympic Committee/IOC, the governing body that oversees structure and discipline, the first of the "Modern Olympics" was held in Athens, Greece, in 1896.

With keen interest, I watched a good portion of the recent Summer Olympic Games, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from August 5 - August 21, 2016. "Rio 2016" was the 31st installment of the Modern Olympics, and it is officially referred to as "Games of the XXXI Olympiad." Regarding the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, some highlights for me were:

*Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, a.k.a. "Lightning Bolt," winning his 9th gold medal in three successive Summer Olympic Games. Over the course of the 2008 Games, the 2012 Games, and the 2016 Games, Bolt captured gold in the 100-meter sprint, the 200-meter sprint, and the 4x 100-meter relay. Bolt has been called the "fastest human ever," and he is the first competitor to win gold in the three aforementioned events in three successive Olympiads.

*Gorgeous, legs-of-steel, 4-foot-8-inch gymnast Simone Biles running, bouncing, and flipping her way to 5 medals: 4 golds and 1 bronze. And don't you just love her TV commercial for Tide laundry detergent? After placing some dirty clothes inside a washing machine, Simone tosses in some Tide PODS (small units of Tide detergent) and nonchalantly walks away, smiling. The TV narrator says: "Despite her size, Simone is packed with power, refined, concentrated power. That's why she trusts Tide PODS: She knows small can be powerful."

*Embroiled American swimmer Ryan Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist: 6 golds, 3 silvers, and 3 bronzes. After winning a gold medal in the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay at the 2016 Games, Lochte and three fellow swimmers, after a night of heavy drinking, were charged with vandalism and public urination at a public gas station in Rio. On national television, Lochte admitted his guilt and, also, that he lied about initially claiming to have been robbed at gunpoint. For the past several years, Lochte has made millions of dollars from major endorsement deals. After the Rio peeing-vandalism blunder, though, the following sponsors dropped Lochte's endorsement deals: Speedo, Ralph Lauren, Syneron-Candela, and Airweave. Though vilified for the time being, Lochte is second only to Michael Phelps in the number of medals won by a male swimmer in Olympic Games competition. (NOTE: Rio authorities, also, are being accused of embellishing what actually happened.)

*Swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time--period--having won 28 medals, in a variety of styles and distances, by competing in five Summer Olympic Games: 2000 (didn't win a medal in 2000), 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. Of Phelps' 28 medals, 23 are gold, which also is an Olympic record. The remaining 5 medals are 3 silvers and 2 bronzes. Michael Phelps has been called "King of the Olympic Rings," a lofty title, indeed!

(NOTE: Phelps also holds 8 world records: 5 individual records and 3 team records.)

However, had it not been for Douglas MacArthur, we might never have heard of Michael Phelps, because the Olympic Games could have disbanded decades ago, and, yes, when I say "Douglas MacArthur," I'm talking about the aviator sunglasses-wearing, corncob pipe-smoking, "I shall return," five-star general who was instrumental in leading America to victory over Japan in World War II. (NOTE: Actor Tommy Lee Jones portrayed General MacArthur in the 2012 film "Emperor.")

Not yet firmly established on a global scale, the 1928 Olympic Games were scheduled to be played in the Netherlands (Holland). With the Great Depression in the dawning stage, and the Wall Street Crash just around the corner, a primary concern for the U.S. was justifying the cost of training, housing, and transporting American athletes competing in the 1928 Olympics.

The president of the U.S. Olympic Committee/USOC died in 1927, and a capable replacement was of paramount importance. Highly extolled for being a World War I hero, the superintendent of prestigious West Point Military Academy, and a natural-born leader of men, Major General (two-star) Douglas MacArthur, at age 48, was chosen to be the president of the USOC.

"MacArthur accepted the post with enthusiasm, and threw himself into the task as if he were planning a military campaign. He constantly reiterated the link between American sports and American exceptionalism. He told them since America was the greatest nation in the world, it deserved to have the greatest Olympic team--and he meant to deliver on that proposition. 'We have not come 3,000 miles just to lose gracefully,' he thundered. 'We are here to win, and win decisively'" (source: Arthur Herman, TIME magazine, June 14, 2016 issue).

At the 1928 Olympics, the United States won 24 gold medals, "more than the next two most-decorated countries, Finland and Germany, put together." Those 24 gold medals forever altered America's perception concerning the global importance of the Olympic Games.

Again, if it hadn't been for General Douglas MacArthur's winning, take-no-prisoners attitude as America's "Coach-and-Chief" at the 1928 Olympics, Michael Phelps might never have had the opportunity to be crowned "King of the Olympic Rings."

(NOTE: The Modern Olympics include both Summer Games and Winter Games.)

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Mike Vinson
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