Building a class of Olympic warriors

How far should we go to develop top athletes? Is it worth so much that a special “Olympic class” of people should be cultivated from a young age?

It seems that this has already happened in many competing nations. It reminds us of the strategy employed by District 2 in the The Hunger Games.

For those not familiar with this particular work of fiction, it tells the story of an entirely more violent set of games that involve a fight to the death by a bunch of teenagers (some even younger).

From each of 12 districts in the nation of Panem two kids are selected to do battle in a sci-fi version of a gladiatorial ring until only one remains and is proclaimed the winner by virtue of still being alive.

The “tributes”, as the teens are so-called, are mostly selected randomly. However, we are told that District 2 has “career tributes” who are entered into special academies at a young age. They then get to the ripe old age of 18 — at which point they are expected to volunteer themselves for the Hunger Games. Districts 1 and 4 have also been known to engage in this strategy, and all three districts that do this are wealthier than the other 9 districts.

This strategy, of having a specialist warrior class, makes tributes from these districts particularly successful at the games. (It also means that the rest of the kids in those districts don’t have to risk being selected by random draw.)

Our own distinctly real Olympic Games is gracefully free of such gratuitous violence. Instead, our Games represent to us sporting achievement in the context of universal ideals. Nations are brought together by them in celebration of values we share.

These are not, however, the Games for every(wo)man. There is undoubtedly a specialist class of Olympians in certain countries.

Such nations take the selection and training of their star athletes very, very seriously in order to have the best possible chance of success in the international arena. In addition to that, even less well off countries may do this, in effect pushing scarce resources towards activities that is seen as worth it because of some greater good, i.e. prestige, national pride, etc.

China comes to mind of course for the great lengths it goes to in talent-spotting the young and then sequestering them for intense training from a very early age.

The country manages to produce headlines like this: “Chinese Diver Wins Gold, Is Finally Told That Her Mother Has Cancer And Her Grandparents Died A Year Ago“. Old Soviet bloc countries were arguably even more extreme with such tendencies.

That’s the darker edge of things. In less ermm… aggressive set ups, it’s about giving the best athletes the opportunities to succeed, so long as they feel like having a go.

It does beg the question of how specialised the Olympic class will become, and whether that’s a good thing.