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US Olympic athletes running wild in Tokyo? Not at the Covid Olympics

US Olympic athletes running wild in Tokyo? Not at the Covid Olympics

The days when a Ryan Lochte night out or athlete bed-hopping made headlines appear numbered in a much changed Olympic village

Last modified on Thu 22 Jul 2021 05.01 EDT

It’s that time again. Time to embrace our inner Olympic judge. Time to contemplate the mating habits of the Great American Athlete.

The game began in earnest a few days ago as the first pictures from inside the athletes’ village dorms whipped around the web – and this time there was no getting past the bed. Not only did the mattress appear to be the furthest thing from “Olympic” size. (Technically, that’s a queen). Not only did the bed look for all the world to be sitting on the box in which it was shipped. No, it also seemed like the kind of thing that could barely hold the weight of one sleeping person, let alone two in the mood for a late night.

From there the “anti-sex” bed memes were off to the races. “Beds will be able to withstand the weight of a single person to avoid situations beyond sport,” snarked Team USA distance runner Paul Chelimo, while others cackled at the premise that a bed could deter the very fittest people in sports from, ahem, going for gold. It took Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan jumping on his bed like a petulant child to remind everyone that, oh yeah, the Japanese are really quite good at making stuff; from the beginning, Airweave, the Yaesu-based firm in question here, had said their bed could hold twice the weight of a medium-sized American.

Surely, Tokyo 2020 organizers must have thought they were doing Mother Earth a solid by commissioning 18,000 beds made of cardboard and polyethylene and other sustainable materials. But you know what would really be doing the world a favor? Not having the Olympics in the middle of a global pandemic.

Already, nature has taken its course. Heading into Friday’s opening ceremony there were 70-odd cases linked to the Games, including three confirmed inside the athletes’ village. Tennis phenom Coco Gauff and NBA All-Star Bradley Beal are among the US stars who will now miss the Olympics after recently testing positive for Covid – and these are two athletes who had already been subject to strict health and safety protocols within their own sports. If the Olympic bubble is already breached, one can only imagine the tatters it will lie in once the most impressive hook-up scene known to man really gets going.

In fact, Olympic organizers plan to distribute 150,000 free condoms, expecting athletes will take them back to their countries and use them wisely in homegrown HIV and Aids prevention campaigns. (Ha!) That’s about 300,000 fewer condoms than were given away in Rio – where they could be reliably found in punch bowls, inside wall dispensers and on one guy who walked around with a clear satchel full of them. Also: alcohol sales will be banned and social distancing encouraged out of an abundance of caution for the delta and now lambda coronavirus variants now sweeping the globe.

Still: You’re telling me the same Olympians whose work demands stratospheric levels of brazenness, delusion and self-sacrifice would suddenly leave that much potential sex on the table? Next, you’ll say the phrase ‘sex Olympics’ is a euphemism for abstinence now. The whole reason for the Games is to inspire, to witness the pinnacle of human achievement. To assume athletes won’t hook up this year doesn’t just discount the challenging earlier months they spent training inside their own countries under stay-at-home orders or that Americans won’t be desperate to defend their hard-partying reputation; it further underestimates the very thing that pushed them to this point – their drive.

For many the Olympics remains the place to let your hair down in likeminded company. Nine years ago ESPN The Magazine offered a rare peak inside this culture, easily the Games’ worst-kept secret, and the stories were even wilder than you’d imagine.

At the London Games’ athlete village, US goalkeeper Hope Solo told ESPN’s Sam Alipour she saw “people having sex right out in the open. On the grass, between buildings, people are getting down and dirty.” Solo even admitted to bringing a celeb back to her bunk, one whose identity will forever remain her “Olympic secret.” Amanda Beard, the two-time gold medal winning swimmer, claimed Olympians “walk around for miles trying to sneak [in sex] somewhere” if they’re given curfews. Alpine skier Carrie Sheinberg said she declined an offer for “some group fun” in exchange for gold medals from two German bobsledders.

Not even we the public can deny the obvious sex appeal of Olympian athletes. Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan flag-bearer who broke the internet with his shirtless appearance at the Rio Games opening ceremony, figures to be a sensation again this year after making his taekwondo team for the third consecutive Olympics. Three years ago he walked in the parade of nations for the 2018 Winter Games, baring his chest again in PyeongChang’s freezing temperatures, while competing in cross-country skiing.

Ryan Lochte, that yardstick of US Olympic bad behavior, whose after-hours exploits in Rio became an international event that far surpassed his golden pursuits in the pool, reckoned that at least 70% of the athletes in the village were sexually active – a figure that sounds about right for a superhuman subset in peak fitness as well under tremendous pressure to perform. What’s more, it’s a figure that all but assures the efforts of Tokyo 2020 organizers will be wasted. Perhaps instead of discouraging sex, they would have been better off discouraging sexism – that other abiding aspect of the Games.

Instead, we had the Norwegian women’s beach handball team incurring $177 fines for wearing biker shorts because their federation insists that they wear bikinis with “tight-fitting” sports bras and bottoms that aren’t “more than ten centimeters on the sides.” Meanwhile, Olivia Breen, Team GB’s double Paralympic track and field world champion, was cited for wearing too-short bottoms, even though she had been competing in similar briefs for years. Other than basketball, soccer and softball, it seems that women athletes are the ones who always have to wear skimpy outfits in the name of capturing that coveted 18-to-34 male demographic.

Here’s where Olympic organizers could step in. They could set wider dress code parameters and leave women competitors to decide the sex appeal. As for the sex itself: fellas, come on. Where have you been the last decade? If it was as easy as taking away a few condoms, abstinence education wouldn’t be a multibillion dollar failure.

But if Tokyo organizers are being honest with themselves, they like having it both ways. They like the whiff of sex without the actual follow-through, without sticky debates around, say, the difference between Laurel Hubbard’s Olympic breakthrough and Caster Semenya’s ban – because what’s more commercial than a tease? And if those same buttoned-up authorities should be so bold as to pin the Covid positives that are doubtless looming over the horizon on athletes hopscotching from one cardboard bed to the next, remember: they’re the prudes who insisted on this entire setup in the first place.

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