Fear and Loathing in Eugene: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the Olympic Dream
Jesse Squire | On 05, Jul 2016
We were somewhere around Beaverton on the edge of Portland when the EPO began to take hold. I remember saying “I feel like running, maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the road was full of what looked like ambulatory skeletons, keeping pace with us all around the car, which was going a very safe 55 miles per hour down the highway to Eugene. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn people?”
Then they disappeared. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was rubbing beef jerky on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. “What the hell are you yelling about?” he muttered, staring up at the trees with his eyes wide open.
It was almost three o’clock, and we still had more than 100K to go. They would be tough kilometers. Very soon, I knew, we would both be completely boosted. But there was no going back, no recovering. We would have to ride it out. Press registration for the fabulous Olympic Trials had already taken place, and we had to be there sometime today to claim our miniscule campus room.
The website had given us no money, so I had to work my connections to round up some extremely dangerous drugs. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile WADA research lab. We had two inhalers of beta agonists, seventy-five tablets of Winstrol, five squeeze bottles of high-powered testosterone cream, a Tupperware tub half full of mehtylhexanine, and a whole galaxy of anabolics, growth hormones, masking agents, and blood boosters. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious PED collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
My attorney saw the Uber customer long before I did. “Let’s give this boy a lyft,” and before I could mount any argument he was stopped and this poor hipster was running to the car with an ironic look on his face, saying, “Hot damn! I’ve never been to a track meet before!”
“By the way,” I said, “there’s probably something you should understand.” He stared at me, not blinking. His neck tattoo didn’t either.
“We’re on our way to Eugene to find the Olympic Dream. That’s why we rented this car. It’s the only way to do it. Can you grasp that?” He nodded again, but his eyes were nervous. “This is a very ominous assignment—with overtones of extreme personal danger.” He looked bored.
I blundered on. “I want you to understand this man at the wheel is my attorney! He’s not just some dingbat I found on campus. Shit, look at him! He doesn’t look like you or me, right? That’s because he’s a foreigner.” He couldn’t weigh 130 pounds soaking wet, and had a complexion as pasty and pale as a foam coffee cup. “I think he’s probably Danish. But it doesn’t matter, right? Despite being northern European, this man is extremely valuable to me.”
We kicked the hipster out of our car after one to many comments about doing things before they were cool, and pointed the Green Hornet back down the highway. We were going to Eugene, the belly of the beast, looking for the Olympic Dream.
My story was true. I was certain of that. And it was extremely important, I felt, for the meaning of our journey to be made absolutely clear. We had been sitting there at Voodoo Doughnuts for many hours. And when the call came, I was ready.
“They want me to go to Eugene and make contact with a Canadian announcer named Hill. He’ll have all the details. All I have to do is check into my dorm room and he’ll have all the details.”
What were we doing here? What was the meaning of this trip? Did I actually have a tiny green Honda on the street? Was I wandering around the campus in a drug frenzy, or had I really come out here to Eugene to work on a story?
There is no way to explain the terror I felt when I finally lunged up to the clerk at the university housing and began babbling. All my well-rehearsed lines fell apart under that student’s stony glare. “My name is..ah…J.J. McClure…yes, on the list for sure…why not? I have my attorney with me and I realize of course that his name is not on the list, but we must have that room, yes, this man is actually my photographer.”
The student never blinked. “Your room’s not ready yet,” she said. “But there’s somebody looking for you.”
“No!” I shouted. “Why? We haven’t done anything yet!” That wasn’t true, I had already opened my big fat yap and pissed off a long list of people. My legs felt rubbery. I gripped the desk and sagged toward the floor.
“I’ll handle this”, my attorney said. “This man has a bad thyroid, but I have plenty of medicine. Prepare our room at once. We’ll be in the parking lot.”
The student shrugged as he led me away. In a town of bedrock dopers, nobody even notices a thyroid freak.
At this point in the chronology, Mr. McClure appears to have broken down completely; the original manuscript is so splintered that we were forced to seek out the original podcast and transcribe it verbatim. It was recorded in a coffee shop in Springfield.
Atty: We’re looking for the Olympic Dream and we were told it was somewhere in this area….Well, we’re looking for it, ’cause they sent us all the way from Ohio to look for it. That’s why they gave us this green Honda, they figure we could catch up with it in that.
Barista: Hey, Lou, you know where the Olympic Dream is?
Atty (to McClure): He’s asking the toastmaster if she knows where the Olympic Dream is.
Barista: Large latte, black coffee, three slices of toast. Do you know where the Olympic Dream is?
Lou: What’s that? What is it?
Atty: Well we don’t know, we were sent out here from Ohio to look for the Olympic Dream, by a website, to cover it.
Lou: Oh, you mean a place.
Atty: The place called the American Dream.
Lou: Is that the old Silver Dollar Club?
Barista: I think so.
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
(header illustration via Youtube)
In 1971, Sports Illustrated sent Hunter S. Thompson to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race. A few weeks later, he went back at the behest of Rolling Stone to report on the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. This being HST, he took matters into his own hands and created a bizarre semi-truthful tale eventually published as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Those who have read it will find the above ranting and raving rather familiar.
It’s an entertaining read, no doubt. Some observers call it a brilliant skewering of American culture. The supposed Horatio Alger-type “American Dream” of working hard, playing by the rules, and getting ahead financially is completely opposite of everything Las Vegas stands for. Vegas is a place where any schmuck with money and blind stupid luck can walk out rich through no particular moral superiority. And the city itself is the capital of moral inferiority, based on carefully marketed sleaze of every stripe. Or maybe it’s not the opposite; both the American Dream and Vegas show that some lucky few can get ahead but the vast majority don’t, and in the end the house always wins by fooling us into playing the game.
My observation is that maybe, just maybe, Thompson simply figured out a way to make a buck while using other peoples’ money to go on an extended bender. An even more twisted possibility is that he only convinced us he went on a bender, making the book-buying part of the Boomer counterculture into one giant mark. Kudos to him if either is true, and would be among the most devious ways ever concocted to achieve the American Dream.
The other dream we’re thinking about this summer is the Olympic Dream. On some level, it’s the idea that obscure self-driven longshots can make it to the Olympics by pure pluck and hard work. You and I both know it doesn’t exactly work that way.
First of all, no one has a chance unless they’ve hit the genetic lottery and possesses physical talent some four standard deviations above the mean. Then they need good coaching, enough funding to do nothing but train and rest, and the right competitive opportunities. The darlings of media and big corporations are given every advantage before the gun ever goes off, and occasionally after the race is over too. And even then, they can jump their spot in line through any of a galaxy of performance-enhancing drugs. As we have come to know more and more with every passing year, the alphabet soup of governing bodies sometimes makes it as easy to get away with doping as it is to walk into an DA’s drug enforcement conference unnoticed while tripping on a suitcase full of psychedelics.
It would be so easy to be cynical and decide that the Olympic Dream is bullshit. Yet I am here, in Eugene, for the Olympic Trials, on my own dime. So I do not believe it’s bullshit. And that’s because every once in a while here the impossible happens.
Eight years ago, Christian Smith got the last qualifying spot in the men’s 800 meters, and even then only due to scratches. He walked out of Hayward Field as an Olympian. Four years ago George Kitchens was the longest of long shots in the long jump, then made the team and broke down in tears on the runway. This is what drives me, the ones who manage to hit the jackpot not through blind stupid luck but by pursuing the best in themselves.
The majority, of course, will not have their Olympic dreams fulfilled, and while they hope and they strain and they push, they really know it won’t happen. That Olympic Dream is enough to keep them going in the months and years leading up to this day. The ones who do more than just getting here are like Iceland’s football team; even getting close to the big prize should set off celebrations (albeit on a much smaller scale).
Thompson started his career in journalism as a sportswriter and had been a talented athlete as a youth. He detested corruption in all its forms, and I think this is because of his sports background. You will find corruption in sport on every level – you will not be surprised to know that some could possibly be taking place at the Trials – but we find it more shocking and less acceptable in sport than anywhere else. I mean, politics? Business? Sport is a paragon of virtue in comparison.
NBC thinks they have all of this carefully scripted, that their predetermined stars are going to be the center of attention. Mostly they’re right, maybe totally right, but they’re missing the point. It’s the upsets, the unthinkable, the things you never saw coming that keep you coming back.
The Olympic Dream is not pure. It never has been and it never will be. But it is not false, either. It’s real, and it’s fabulous.