I’ve read a lot of short stories. There are some I’ve completely forgotten, and others that I’d recall only if I started to read them again. There’s a smaller group I might remember if I heard the title or something about the plot. There are very few stories that I read years ago, but still recall without prompting. Mike Resnick‘s “The Olympians” is one of those, and I decided to post about it while the Olympics are taking place.
The story can be found in at least three collections:
I’m going to do something out-of-character with this post. I didn’t read the story again to refresh my memory. Instead, I’m going to post my years-old recollections, which might be the most interesting parts of the story, or might be mangled distortions of it.
I read the story in Birthright: The Book of Man, which is a collection of stories that follow humanity as it takes over the galaxy and rules over the alien races, then faces rebellion and extinction at their hands. It has chapters titled “The Merchants”, “The Diplomats”, etc..
ENDING REVEALED BELOW – TURN BACK NOW, OR ABANDON ALL HOPE
In “The Olympians”, humanity reinforces its dominance over aliens by defeating them in athletic contests, even though alien bodies may be better adapted for each sport. The majority of the story is about a footrace between a human champion and runners from a race of aliens who have more lung capacity, larger leg muscles, etc..
In a press conference before the footrace, an alien asks why no human has ever faced a certain alien race in a wrestling competition. Those aliens happen to be 800-pound tentacle monsters. The human spokesman states that a wrestler (with an Iranian-sounding name) is in training and will take up the challenge soon.
The humans don’t ban steroids and blood doping and stimulants – they have a government department devoted to applying them. That’s not enough for our human running champion, who begins to fall behind during the race. Ultimately, his mind gives him the edge he needs to win. He sprints ahead for a last-minute victory because he can’t stand the thought of losing. He can’t disgrace his family, the other Olympians, or the human race.
After crossing the finish line, he doesn’t fall down and gasp for air in front of the alien spectators. He strolls to the locker room, breathing slowly, as if the race was no big deal. Once out of sight, he’s free to collapse.
Wow, I’ve got to read this again! I think I’ll read the other two anthologies – maybe their other story choices are great as well.
Funny how some short stories stay with us.
I imagine we each have our own lists — I certainly do. I recently challenged myself with listing such stories from memory, but have since learned that all too many of them aren’t to be found anywhere. Not in anthologies, not in e-books, not in on-line archives. Glad I kept a few of the magazines some of them appeared in, but others seem to be lost forever.
That’s too bad. Hopefully some of them will pop back up in e-collections from the magazines or wherever you found them.
I can see why that would stick with you. I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of humans asserting their dominance (athletic or otherwise) over all the other species of the galaxy. That strikes me as a bit imperialistic of us. But the idea that our real strength is in our minds… that’s a pretty inspiring message.
Oh, in the birthright collection, it wasn’t just a little imperialistic, it was flat-out, unadulterated imperialism. The sports thing was just one way of reinforcing the status quo, which had been achieved through economic (and probably military — I can’t remember) methods. Then there’s alien rebellion and human extinction. A rise and fall story.
Well I’m glad imperialism was defeated… I think.
I’m working on some sports related shorts myself. I like the power of the mind aspect. I’m also going to be dealing with performance enhancing drugs in my stories.
I’m looking forward to that collection. I’m not a baseball fan, but I’m somewhat familiar with the sport because my grandfather watched all the time, so I’d see when I visited him.
It’s coming along, thanks.
I don’t remember “The Olympians” in particular, but Birthright is why I haven’t tried any more of Resnick’s books. The end is way too depressing.
The ending story is the other one I remember from this collection, so I know what you’re talking about.
I haven’t read it yet, but based on reviews, I’d say you should definitely avoid Resnick’s “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”.
He’s probably written tons of other stuff which isn’t so dark, I’ve read a bit of his “Starship” series, and don’t think it’s like that, but I haven’t read the final book. I’ve also read a number of his short stories which were humorous in nature. I think he even wrote romance novels under pen names.
Yaw! I understand.
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The ideas in this book are so powerful… This book turns my way of understanding our kind. I truly believe that we have to stat to think as a kind, before everything. Before nations, religions and etc.