The modern Olympics have already changed a great deal since their early years. Arts events like architecture, literature, painting, and music went out the window in 1954, and many events, such as mountain biking, synchronized swimming, curling, and table tennis were added only in the last 30 years. So how might the event change in the future? We look to Olympic science fiction, as well as a few current events.
Competitors will battle to the death. Long before The Hunger Games science fiction writers envisioned televised battles to the death. In Walter F. Moudy's short story "The Survivor," the US and Russia have done away with war, instead holding the Olympic War Games, a televised event that pits 100 American soldiers against 100 Russian soldiers and beams the horrors of war right into civilians' living rooms. The heirs of those who die receive a large chunk of money; survivors of the game are exempt from all laws and receive unlimited funds. The problem is, Olympic victors don't integrate back into society terribly well.
The competitions will test professional, rather than athletic, prowess. The stakes are high in the Olympics of Isaac Asimov's story "Profession." Instead of competing in athletic events for personal pride, country, and glory, Olympians compete in professional competitions that test how valuable they will be to a future employer. Perform well, and you'll receive a contract with a top-notch Outworld. If you choke, you'll find yourself sent to work on an inferior planet. So make sure your educational tapes are up to date before stepping into the arena.
The Olympics will be a way of pacifying the masses — with pornography. Sex is an Olympic event in the 1968 Theatre 625 performance The Year of the Sex Olympics. In fact, as the name suggests it is the Olympic event. The upper class uses a constant stream of televised screwing to placate the uneducated masses. (One wonders how many points they award for a proper dismount.) When interest in sport sex begins to wane, they cook up a much more interesting game: dropping contestants on a deserted island and see what they do. Add one murderous psychopath, stir, and you have a fictional predecessor to Survivor.
Robots will compete. By Futurama's year 3004, robots have their own Olympic events, like bending. True to Futurama's "the more things change, the more they stay the same" fashion, manbots and fembots compete separately. As a bonus, micronations like the Nation of Joe get to compete in the Earth Olympiad, as does the Republic of French Stereotypes, whom everyone hates.
The Olympics will become a contest of scientific superiority. In Ted Kosmatka's novel The Games, humans no longer compete in Olympic events. Instead, the geneticists from various nations create increasingly destructive and invulnerable gladiators from various types of DNA (but never human). The better your designs, the more likely your country is to win the gold. But the drive to win can sometimes trump good sense; one team, desperate to keep up its winning streak, creates a gladiator so ruthless and cunning that they can't control it.
Genetically modified athletes will compete. Competition through science is also a key component of Tom Sullivan's story "The Mickey Mouse Olympics." It may be illegal for genetically enhanced athletes to compete in the Olympics, but that doesn't stop the US and the USSR from initiating a Cold War of athletic modifications, brushing off any suspicious features their athletes might sport as birth defects. There's a similar genetic engineering rivalry in Nicholas V. Yermakov's story "A Glint of Gold," and in Kevin Joseph's novel The Champion Maker, a track coach uncovers a "gene doping" conspiracy.
Regarding other brands of human enhancement, questions have already arisen in real life as to whether Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius' prosthetics offer him an unfair advantage over other competitors. But MIT biomechanics engineer Hugh Herr, who insists that Pistorius' blades lend him no such advantage, still believes that we'll eventually have Olympic-sanctioned limbs (that mimic biological limb function) and superior limbs. Those superior limbs, he suggests, might even demand a power Olympics of their very own.
Transhumanist groups will bid for athlete endorsements. Even if transhuman athletes can't compete in the Olympic Games, as in Ian Creasey's story "The Prize Beyond Gold," transhumanist groups can still try to recruit athletes at the ends of their careers. In these future Olympics, record breaking has become increasingly rare and athletes are strictly forbidden any chemical or biological alterations. But man, if you do break a record, those endorsement contracts start pouring in — and not just from financial sponsors. Enhanced humans will want you to join their special clique as well, endorsing their particular group by selecting the same enhancements they did.
Participants will have to adjust to events held in other gravities — or in space. In the Judge Dredd story "The First Lunar Olympics," Olympic records are broken left and right thanks to the moon's low gravity. (Incidentally, a bout of Olympic cheating results in a brief, televised war game, not unlike that in Moudy's story.) In Stephen Marlowe and Milton Lesser's book Stadium Beyond the Stars, the protagonist is an Olympic-level
The organizers of the first Space Olympics will be completely unprepared. In this SNL Digital Short, the Space Olympics sounds like a rad idea, until you realize the organizers screwed up the budget, didn't pack enough air, and left the Olympic village vulnerable to alien attacks. But hey, at least we get to put the word "space" in front of all the events.
We'll control the weather during the events. This is a bit of an odd one, but it actually comes from reality. For the 2008 Olympics, the Beijing Weather Modification Office had a system in place to shoot silver iodide into oncoming clouds to seed and drain them before they reached Beijing, ensuring dry weather for the opening ceremony. Perhaps perfected weather control in future Olympic cities could mean sun and snow at the appropriate times, granting us a more predictable Olympics, at least in one respect.