When my editor came to me with a story about how Olympic officials were handing out 100,000 condoms at this years games -- I thought she was joking. My initial response was to quip that we may have discovered the reason there is so much pole vaulting in the Olympics. From the tone of her email I realized she was serious. But as I mulled it over I had one of those “Wait a minute! What...?” moments. 100,000 condoms?! But there are only 2,850 athletes at this year's Olympic games! Quick mental math and...35 condoms for every athlete at the games! Wait, this is the Olympics we are talking about here. Let's take a closer look as to why 100,000 condoms were handed out to the Olympians at this year's Sochi Olympics.
7 A contest originally dedicated to honor Zeus
There is no greater human spectacle on Earth than the Olympics! No greater testament to the lengths to which human beings will strive for physical excellence. This is where nations come to raise their standing on the world stage. No one can forget the politically charged '72 Summit series between Canada and the USSR. Or more infamously, the flickering images of Hitler announcing the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Nor the fact that this athletic event has been a theater for competing political ideologies as much as a forum for world sport dating back to 776 BC. The first Olympics were held in - you guessed it – Olympia in southern Greece and were a contest originally dedicated to honor Zeus.
6 The most expensive Olympic games of all time
Today the stakes are no less dramatic, if maybe less obviously weighted by militaristic, if not imperialistic overtones. It has even been stated by the Times of London that President Putin believes that staging the winter games is a chance to show Russia as a resurgent world power. Pretty sure he isn't talking about sports. All this goes to illustrate that with so much at stake, the pressure which is placed on the average athlete of any nation is immense. Even for those who don't place, the chance for glory is tantalizing and real, as in the case of the famed Jamaican Bobsledding team, or even ski jumper: Eddy the Eagle of great Britain. It is a world where even competing out of your depth can win fame and pride for the country who's grit and quintessence are revealed in the bravery of their athletes. The desire to win for themselves and their homelands can drive an athlete to almost any length to reach that elusive place in history on the podium of Olympic glory.
Even with so much on the line, the fact that there are 4 on site media staff for every 1 athlete boggles the mind! It follows then that when the more than 200 media organizations they represent begin pumping out the tsunami of correspondence, certain facts find the front page more than others.
5 3-4 condoms per person per day
Typically, the first to emerge are the big questions like, how much did the games cost? Let's see -- suspected corruption and non games related construction aside – the 2014 Sochi games, which are being hailed as the most expensive Olympic games of all time, are coming in at a staggering $51 billion! This dwarfs the much larger Summer games of Beijing by $10 billion. Still other news worthy tidbits abound. According to CNN there will be 37,000 security officers, 25,000 volunteers, 7,000 Chefs and support staff serving enough borscht at 265,000 liters to overflow all but an olympic sized swimming pool! TV audience of 3 billion, fans from 124 countries, grounds that hold 75,000 people, 406,767 gay rights protest signatures and on and on and on. The scale of even the minutia of these events is news worthy. Which brings us back to why Olympic officials thought it necessary to hand out 100,000 condoms to the world's elite athletes?
4 Why is sex such a given at the Olympics?
Without too much sleuthing we can determine that the average age of Olympic athletes is around 26, with 13 year old Adzo Kpossi of Togo being the youngest and 71 year old Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan being the oldest. An unprecedented 180 athletes over 40 are also competing this year. So what does this tell us? Why is sex such a given at the Olympics that besides condoms the athletes even have an app to help them hook up?
We need to bring this into perspective to determine if these are more than the average number of condoms used by an equal number of non Olympic athletes. In other words how many condoms do regular people go through over a span of 17 days? As you may have guessed, this is a pretty specific question that requires collating of statistics from different sources.
3 Condom stats
Let's start with how many condoms are used world wide? According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) approximately 10.4 billion male condoms were used in 2005 alone. Wow, that's a lot, but we need more specific data to triangulate in on the answer. A quick look at the stats provided by the World Bank tell us that men between the ages of 15-24 are burning through the most condoms out of any given population. This narrows the stats a bit but we need a crucial number, or primer if you will, to come to grips with the fact that the Olympic organizers think that 2 condoms per athlete per day is necessary. Factoring in religious constraints, general attractiveness to the opposite or same sex, plus the use of alternative contraceptives eliminates some candidates from the list of possible sexual partners and thus raises the number of condoms available per sexually active athlete to around 3-4 condoms per person per day. Olympic indeed! When compared to usage among general population which works out to somewhere around 3-6 condoms per month between the ages of 15 and 49 we have identified a statistical anomaly! A footnote on the formulas required to come to these numbers is in order. Deriving usage statistics based on available reported data is treacherously difficult. Not to be coy but one size formula does not fit all populations or age groups. Nevertheless the Kinsey Institute provides some clarity on the topic and supports our conclusion that if the number of condoms distributed at the Olympics equals the amount of sex athletes are having then this is above the norm by many times over.
2 But what about performance enhancing drugs?
Okay, we have our stats ~ so what could be contributing to promiscuity on this scale? Well, it's a dark horse topic but what about performance enhancing drugs? Without too much digging there are many studies and reports such as one found in Clinical Chemistry by Werner W. Franke and Brigitte Berendonk which cited sexual libido so strong in Eastern Block female athletes taking androgenic steroids that they asked to be taken off the program! This would have meant exclusion from the elite athletic competitions at that time. The ironic aspect of modern anabolic steroid and some other doping methods is the fact that erectile dysfunction is common while at the same time increased libido is reported. So we have people who want more sex but are physically less able to have it. Over the years mandatory drug testing has become increasingly effective in uncovering even the most careful drug use and the Olympic standards in this regard are higher than most. So while history tells us performance enhancers can increase sex drive and are likely still used, we cannot rest our case on this fact alone.
What about the human factor? Let's put ourselves in the shoes, skates, skis or sleds of this years winter Olympic athletes. You've trained all your life for this moment. You are as fit and as focused as a thoroughbred, you are immersed in drama, victory, defeat and thousands of fans and media watching your every move. You are surrounded by beautiful and accomplished athletes in the prime of their physical power. There are titanic pressures and yawning chasms of doubt and relief. In short every powerful human emotion is on the fields of competition. So how do you unwind at the end of the day? Probably by either celebrating or commiserating. Oh, and by epic partying!
1 Closing celebration partying
In an exposé by Sam Alipour published in ESPN The Magazine in 2012 American Rifle Shooting athlete Josh Lakatos disclosed the ongoing and closing celebration partying that took place over a span of 8 days following the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Descriptions that included duffel bags full of condoms and other antics seem to give credence to the fact that whatever the reason, sex and accompanying parties are a pressure release valve. A fact that is so well known among athletes that there is even a book on this subject called Sex & the Olympics: The Unauthorized Guide by James Buckley and team. Released in 2012 it is self described as a “salacious history of sex and the Olympic Games” from the licentious Greeks who started it all, to the present day shenanigans of the Olympic Village. You knew the word shenanigans would be in this article.
Whatever your moralistic persuasion, conventional wisdom and high-school experience tells us that whenever you have a large number of people, in peak physical condition, with so much at stake and so much in common – all contained in one exciting and dynamic place and time -- you are going to have...well, 100,000 condoms. Viva La Olympics!