Better Prizes, Hunger Games Ideas Would Make the Olympics More Exciting

Gold medals don't pay the rent.

I love my country—and most of its prominent sports—but I hate the Olympics, specifically my country’s televised presentation of the Olympics. The pomp and circumstance nauseate me. The syrupy storylines that NBC’s family of networks will shove down our throats. The misguided belief that winning a gold medal is some kind of patriotic salve.

The Olympics are self-congratulatory, reality TV centered on sports. That’s why I avoid the whole production—and it is a production in the grandest, shallowest way. Jesus, Ryan Seacrest is involved. For the Olympics to become relevant again, it has to be less concerned with creating celebrities and soft-focus angles.

As a participant in multiple field days and someone with way too much free time, I can revive the games so they’d be appreciated by the millions—OK, dozens—who pine for unfiltered amateur competition. The rest of us just want to be entertained without being annoyed.

Here’s how to improve the Olympics.

1. All able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 30 would be required by law to register for Olympic selection.

2. When the current Olympics ends, participants (and reserves) would be selected for events at random. Yes, it’s possible that a basketball team’s starting forward tops out at five-foot-eleven. Males and females would be separated into different pools.

3. After a background check and physical, participants would spend the next two years training non-stop. This would be an incentive for Americans to get in shape. If you think shedding holiday weight is excruciating, try preparing for the decathlon when your only intense exercise has been lifting an overfilled spoon of Graham Slam to your food hole.

4. Like The Hunger Games, someone from the same geographic region could volunteer their services. Let’s say a town believes it is home to the next Jim Thorpe. The golden boy can step up, but only if the randomly selected participant agrees.

5. Participation will look appealing if there’s an incentive. Let’s say the United States gives $500,000 for a bronze medal and a cool million for silver. Gold-medal winners get one wish—that solves a legitimate problem—courtesy of the federal government. Your brother needs a job? Done. Want your house out of foreclosure? Sure. The backstories would be phenomenal. “Greg Jenkins really needs to clear the bar if he wants to attend Tulane this fall.” “Sarah Higgins heads to London looking for a gold medal—and proper health care for her ailing mother.”

6. All participants would be removed from future Olympics selection. Non-medalers would not be penalized. They’d move to the next stage of life having experienced different cultures and travel, though they could not profit from their Olympic tenure for 15 years. If someone wants to give a participant a job, that’s fine. I just refuse to deal with dozens of hastily written, poorly expressed memoirs or stiff acting in awful movies.

7. Al Michaels and Marv Albert would handle the announcing and hosting duties. Seriously, screw Seacrest.

What good comes out of this new approach?

1. America’s nagging obesity epidemic would be obliterated within 20 years of this plan’s ratification.

2. If every country follows this model, the Olympics would embody the competitive spirit of the common man, which would make it meaningful on a global scale.

3. Imagine Emma Stone running the high hurdles or Bruno Mars volleying for serve. Stars, they’re just like us!

4. The athletes’ motivation would highlight the real problems facing the world. With millions watching, that might inspire some kind of change. At the very least we’d see that these issues have faces.

5. We’d learn how regular people, not those raised to be athletes, respond to pressure and rise to the moment.

6. The Olympics, for the first time in a long, long time, would matter. It would be about us.