Even hard-core fans of the Olympics (a group that includes yours truly) have to admit that of all the things that collapsed with the Berlin Wall, few fell harder than the Olympics. (To be sure, the growth of all-sports cable channels, the creation of actual world championships in track and field, the inclusion of open professionals in competition, etc., didn't help).
But once the Games stopped being a Cold War proxy battle they also became far less interesting: It's one thing to see "amateur" U.S. basketball team (that is, college scholarship athletes) lose a gold medal game to "amateur" Commies (that is, Soviet citizens who were also paid to play ball) while the Vietnam War was still going on. It's another, and altogether less-interesting, spectacle to see various Dream Teams drub Angola. And given the relative paucity of Middle Eastern Arab nations competing at the highest levels, don't expect the Olympics to become a proxy for the war on terrorism anytime soon.
In yesterday's Washington Post, Peter Carlson has an interesting story about the increase in nation-hopping athletes who gained citizenship in countries where they can make an Olympic team more easily and thus compete. For instance, 22 of 24 players on the Greek baseball team are actually American and Canadian; they're about as Greek as any of us who have chowed down on streetside gyros. And then there's the great Jamaican sprinter, Merlene Ottey, who first appeared in the 1980 Games. She's 44 years old but still competitive–and now running for Slovenia.
On the one hand, this phenomenon is an interesting metaphor for globalization and the increasing traffic in goods, services, and people among the nations of the world. And by giving more spaces to top competitors, it may even make the Olympics more interesting. This sort of thing is hardly new, but it seems to make sense in a wolrd that is far more integrated and cosmopolitan that it was in, say, 1896, the date of the first modern Games. Whole story here.
But it also represents a real challenge to the original aim of the modern Olympic movement, which was explicitly founded upon a deep-seated national pride; Olympics revivalist Pierre de Coubertin is widely understood to have resurrected the Games as a way of rebuilding French morale after its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. Certainly it is undeniable that the games were fed by (and helped to fuel) explicitly nationalist sentiments of the competing countries. The Games, like the world itself, may be more individualistic now. That they are also apparently less interesting (as evidenced by TV ratings, etc) seems a small price to pay for that positive development.