Olympic Sour Grapes


Opening the front page of Tuesday’s Boston Globe, we were greeted by a grim headline. The two-word verdict, rendered in a font size normally reserved for announcing national calamities, read “GAMES OVER,” and below it, there appeared a photo of a somber Mayor Marty Walsh at a press conference telling the world that he would not sign the Host City agreement with the USOC, ending Boston’s quirky bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

My first thought was, “Yeah, like the IOC was going to select Boston instead of Paris, Rome, Istanbul…”

My second thought was, “It would have been pretty incredible to host the Olympics, but we’re probably better off without them…”

My third thought was, “what did George Carlin say about ‘sour grapes?'” So I looked it up:

The phrase ‘sour grapes’ does not refer to jealousy or envy. Nor is it related to being a sore loser. It deals with the rationalization of failure to attain a desired end. In the original fable by Aesop, ‘The Fox and the Grapes,’ when the fox realizes he cannot leap high enough to reach the grapes, he rationalizes that even if he had gotten them, they would probably have been sour anyway. Rationalization. That’s all sour grapes means. It doesn’t deal with jealousy or sore losing. Yeah, I know, you say, ‘Well, many people are using it that way, so the meaning is changing.’ And I say, ‘Well many people are really f***ing stupid, too, shall we just adopt all their standards?‘” (George Carlin, Braindroppings)

I miss George Carlin.

But returning to Boston’s realization that it couldn’t leap high enough to reach the grapes… I mean rings… are we about to experience nine years of telling ourselves and anyone who will listen that it would have been a terrible idea for Boston to host? It doesn’t help that our collective reluctance has become another way for the rest of the country to laugh at the City’s parochialism and exaggerated sense of self-importance. Our punishment, it seems, is to read all the clever columnists channeling their inner Jay Leno, writing about how the Boston 2024 bid deflated faster than a Tom Brady football. Man, that is comic genius right there.

But sour grapes or not, I still think the whole thing, beginning to end, was just plain weird. When I first heard that a group of citizens was talking about having Boston host the Olympics, I dismissed the possibility without a second thought. When their efforts led to Boston being considered a finalist to receive the USOC’s approval as the official U.S. bid city, I confidently predicted there was no way it would happen. When it happened, I assumed it would fail, given the obvious issues for staging the Olympic events here, and the marked inferiority — logistics wise — to the other world cities competing for hosting rights.

Which is not to say that the Boston 2024 committee didn’t mess up. Maybe they really were as incompetent and deceitful as blogger and LA booster Alan Abrahamson says. in a July 26th post titled “Hey, Boston 2024, it’s not US(OC) — it’s you,” Abrahamson goes vitriolic on Boston, writing

Boston, meanwhile, has over the past six months proven to the world what most stereotypically consider its worst trait — coming off as an insulated, angry group of navel-gazing NIMBYs who don’t trust outsiders and don’t think there is anything in the world that is better or can be improved about the place. The Hub? Ha.


But as someone who lives here, and who hasn’t seriously gazed at my navel since before the Big Dig was completed, I feel the need to defend the typical Bostonian, and especially those in the running community. We never thought it would be a good idea to have the Olympics here. The Olympics is an immense, unruly collection of athletic disciplines that quadrennially provides the media with a buffet of opportunities to tell heart-warming and inspirational stories and sell airtime to eager advertisers. Incredibly, in spite of the rampant commercialization of every aspect of the Olympics and the infuriating coverage here in the U.S., it continues to offer actual inspiration, if you know where to look.

But realistically, the modern Olympics needs to be held in a big city that is used to, and comfortable with, big-budget media extravaganzas. I agree with Abrahamson: Los Angeles is a perfect setting for the Olympics, and not only because they already have the Coliseum (although that’s convenient), but because they already have Hollywood.

The Olympics is too big for Boston. Boston is too small for the Olympics. There’s nothing wrong with that, and nothing that we didn’t know years ago. Although it’s bound to sound like the fable of the fox and the grapes, there are some of us who will even admit that although we adore Track and Field, we do not care for the Olympics as currently staged. The World Championships, I would argue, is always a much better track meet than the Olympics Track and Field program. Maybe some day Boston will become inspired to bid for the World Championships and build that 80,000 seat stadium — although it will probably be decades before anyone trusts us with hosting anything more important than the annual Home and Garden show at the Seaport World Trade Center.

The point is, most of us never asked to be considered an Olympic city, and so we’re confused about why not being one is such a big deal, and our daily newspaper is confirming the fact in such funereal tones.

Oh well, we’d better get used to years of late-night jokes about failed Olympic aspirations, deflated footballs, and especially sour grapes.

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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