"Emergency shipment of condoms headed to Olympic athletes." —Headline encountered on the Internet
When I read the headline in February of 2010, I was taken aback. I hadn't known there was a regular shipment. The total number of condoms provided amounted to 14 condoms per Olympian, which meant 28 envelopment incidents per Olympian, assuming two-Olympian couplings. When you discounted strictly lesbian Olympians and Olympians who used condoms as coasters, that's still an awful lot of sex, amounting to what was possibly the world's greatest intra-species genetic shuffle outside of Queens, N.Y.
In 2010, sex in the Olympic Village was not a top news story. But somehow the 2012 Games are different. First, there was the story that Grindr, an app that allows users to cruise men nearby, crashed minutes after the Olympic teams touched down. Then there was U.S. soccer star Hope Solo, quoted on the Olympic Village in ESPN Magazine: "I've seen people having sex right out in the open. On the grass, between buildings, people are getting down and dirty." Earlier this week, reports (The Guardian) emerged that authorities were investigating how condoms not provided by Durex, the official Olympic brand, got into the Village. And then on Twitter I read about a Belizean archer who'd just given a Moldovan wrestler a "Zambian Diver" on Loop Road. I was afraid to ask what a Zambian Diver was. I'm guessing it involves being landlocked.
After I read that tweet, I was approached on a Durham street by a man in a trench coat who identified himself only as Cheap Throat. I asked if he meant Deep Throat, but he said, "No, that's disgusting." He led me into a cafe and began to tell me the truth. The media's been slow to catch up, he said, and they still have a long way to go. The sex culture of the Olympic Village isn't merely a story of Grindr crashes or sordid tell-alls. In fact, the games we watch on TV are not even the real Olympics. They are the shadow Olympics, a cover for the one political summit that, every four years, settles the vast majority of the world's resource disputes, trade negotiations and financial transactions. The world is none the wiser. "Do you remember the 1984 collapse of the Luxembourgish economy?" he asked. "You don't, because it didn't happen. It was circumvented by the talents of the German water polo team."
There's more: The most famous figure in this "true" Olympic history is Arturo Tarantino. He was a member of the Italian diving team for three Olympics running, in Moscow in 1980, Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988. He never medaled. He often didn't even qualify for the finals. At the time, he was conspicuous only for his bright yellow Speedo, which always earned a chuckle from commentators. That was the only noteworthy thing at all until the fateful day in July 1988 when Tarantino completed a perfect, never-before-attempted five-quarter half-pike "somersault Maugham"—and then disappeared into the bottom of the pool. All that remained was his Speedo, which floated up to the surface, causing mass panic.
It was a great blow to world peace. Though others had laid preliminary groundwork for the art of sexual negotiation in previous Olympics, Tarantino was its fulfillment. In 1980, the cabal that controls these Unterverhandlungen recognized Tarantino's early talent and tapped him for special training. He also trained as a diver, to be sure; you can't fake it, not even in 1988 when everyone was dumber. But his true role was not diving: He was in fact the Olympics' principal psychosexual diplomat. It is told that his sexual skill with both men and women was unrivaled. No one knows how many wars he prevented by his work during the '80s. In the days since Cheap Throat approached me, I've since heard tales of Olympians shuddering and rocking in dark rooms at his memory, arms folded, eyes wet, remembering how Tarantino made them feel. And how, when asked what purpose he served in the world, he answered:
"I have come to abolish the nation-state."
It appears that such an agenda diverged from that of the cabal that controlled him. Conspiracy theories abound. So do myths: After his disappearance, the Italian diving team, wild with mourning, claimed to have unearthed a scroll describing how the oracle at Delphi had in fact foretold Tarantino's coming as the Great Peacemaker 3,000 years ago. (Why it was found in Italy, they didn't address.)
Given Tarantino's venture into the deepest aspects of human and national psyche, his position was not surprising. Human bodies and nation states are analogous: They are the form that we occupy, with discrete boundaries in space, that we conflate with personal identity. But in the Olympic negotiations, the boundaries come down. Human attraction is universal. Language is unnecessary. Hollows fit over protuberances and juices exude. It is under these conditions, and only under these conditions, that peace can be extracted from parties in conflict.
The yellow Speedo is the only relic of Tarantino that remains. Few lay eyes on it, though I've seen pictures. The Speedo is awarded every four years to whichever Olympian is the most generous, the least egoistic, the most fluid—the opposite of every attribute actually required of a world-class athlete. The Italians did dominate for several years, but then came the Gabonese dynasty, and lately, there have been showings from surprising quarters. The current keeper of the Speedo is Samoan.
As for Tarantino, his body was never found. Some say he is alive and well as an ascetic on Tierra del Fuego. When I mentioned this to Cheap Throat, he laughed roughly and waved his hand. He'll be back, he said, when the world is ready for him. But now? National egos are too big.
Then he stood up, stepped back, and opened his trench coat.
Monica Byrne is a playwright-in-residence with Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern. Her play, Tarantino's Yellow Speedo, will debut next fall.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The real Olympic ideal."