Handling the whole Olympian truth

An apparent oil slick covers Guanabara Bay, an Olympic venue.
An apparent oil slick covers Guanabara Bay, an Olympic venue. Japan News-Yomiuri

Every Olympics sets a new record for chatter. This year’s games are no different: The astounding athletes. The opening ceremony. DeMarcus Cousins and his Team USA teammates at that Copacabana brothel – er, “male spa.”

How about the Hungarian gold medal swimmer Katinka Hosszu? How about her chest-thumping coach-husband? How about the refugee team, so brave and moving? And how annoying is the NBC tape delay? Rio de Janeiro’s time zone is only one hour earlier than the East Coast’s, after all.

Also, doping. Also, Zika. Also, Third World corruption and poverty. Also: Is it true that an Olympic kayaker capsized after hitting a rotting, submerged sofa in one of Rio’s sewage-strewn waterways? It’s not clear.

Once, the Olympics had three basic subplots: the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and which Cold War country would go home with the most gold.

With each iteration of the Olympic Games, our digital eyes and social media antennae pick up more of the picture.

No longer. With each iteration of the games, our digital eyes and social media antennae pick up more of the picture. Athletic potential isn’t all that has evolved in this, the first Summer Olympics to coincide with the era of Netflix. Every competition not only sets a new bar for performance, but also leaves us all more utterly, perfectly, exhaustively informed.

Is this what we want? Do we want both Katie Ledecky’s stunning 400-meter freestyle and the knowledge that the Sochi games were hopelessly corrupted by state-run Russian doping? Can we enjoy those gorgeous aerial shots of Christ the Redeemer looking out over the beach from Mount Corcovado, knowing that, up close, the water is so polluted that athletes have been warned not to submerge their heads?

Again, unclear. The whole truth is that the Olympics are both the best humanity has to offer and rank propaganda, a celebration of hard work and high ideals and a multibillion-dollar entertainment franchise. That whole truth can be hard to swallow, not unlike the water in Rio’s Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where that kayaker either did or did not hit that floating couch.

So far, NBC’s Olympics ratings have been lackluster. Time will tell the reasons. Maybe viewers have migrated to streaming platforms. Maybe #Rio2016 tweets are fragmenting the market. Maybe everyone is binge-watching “Stranger Things” and Donald Trump news.

Or maybe in this age of global disparity, the thrill of Michael Phelps’ umpteenth gold starts to feel uncomfortable against the backdrop of those abject favelas.

Such is the high-def 21st-century landscape, sports fans. The spotlight shows everything, sooner or later. Gotta take the sewage with the gold.