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Test of Medal
Let's Focus on the Many Bright Olympic Moments


These are difficult times to be writing about the Olympic Games, now returning to their birthplace in Athens, Greece. The specter of athlete drug scandals (see News Briefs) on the heels of ethical lapses within the IOC itself and the role of sleazy "supplement" manufacturers and promoters have tarnished the Olympic rings. The vast scope of the 28th Olympiad, delays in construction, and concerns regarding security might be the final straw in what seems to have become an entertainment extravaganza rather than a demonstration of courage, athleticism, and perseverance.

It seems such a short time ago that our view of the Olympic Games was epitomized in the movie Chariots of Fire, in which Eric Liddell of the 1924 Games sparked passion in viewers' minds; a passion best described as the transcendent power of the indomitable human spirit.

I don't know how rampant drug use or other forms of cheating are within the Olympic Games, but there are credible reports that it is more common than we might realize.1 What I do know is that the media do not randomly parcel the stories athletes have to tell. They focus on athletes likely to win a medal, their coverage is biased toward their own country rather than a truly global perspective, and they rush to press with tantalizing stories of scandal.

For every athlete who wins, there are dozens who don't make the podium. They must be content with a personal best or limited recognition despite a great effort. I'm certain each of the 10,500 Olympic athletes has a story that would inspire us if we were able to tap into it.

How many of you know an Olympic athlete? I have known a number and highly admire them. I've attended the Olympic Games and traveled with a team around the world in the preparation year leading to the Olympics. These were highlight experiences for me. I didn't see many negatives. What I saw was the focus, the faith in pursuing goals in spite of uncertainty, the perseverance in overcoming adversity, the optimism, the dedication to push forward one step at a time when it seems there is no more reserve, and the fun. I saw young men and women having a lot of fun in their pursuit.

I admire the attributes of those aspiring to become Olympians, in part because many of those attributes are essential for day-to-day life. I don't think I live in a dream world—I just don't want to be permanently jaded by the negative aspects of glory, such as greed, cheating, and narcissism. For these traits simply reflect the nature of the human condition, not the Olympics themselves.

Appropriate efforts to fight cheating should be given priority. Role modeling should be honored and respected among the many clean athletes who compete licitly. And the media should enjoy preserving the values of hard-working athletes as a source of inspiration to those in life who encounter substantial adversity with their health, including those struggling to exercise to raise their HDL levels, lose weight, improve a chronic disease state, or bolster their fitness.

The Olympic Games are a noble effort, and the vast majority of Olympians are role models for all of us—and for all our patients. Let us admonish those who fail the test of character, but let's not abandon a cultural institution that holds so much promise.

Gordon O. Matheson, MD, PhD


  1. Stray-Gundersen J, Videman T, Penttila I, et al: Abnormal hematologic profiles in elite cross-country skiers: blood doping or? Clin J Sport Med 2021;13(3):132-137