I know. I know. Another Olympics post. I just can’t help myself. I’m hooked.
I have never been anyone’s definition of an athletic person. In grade school, kids wanted me as their PE partner because they would look better by comparison. Nor do I know much about sports – their rules, their superstars, their statistics. In fact, most of my sports knowledge comes from The Mighty Ducks and Angels in the Outfield. So, how does someone with zero athletic ability or knowledge become so captivated by a fortnight of athletic competition?
Well, the world has seemed like a pretty bleak place lately. In America, we are confronted every day with news of a weakened economy, gun violence, bitter divisions, and a crumbling national morale. For a Millenial who was told anything is possible in the land of the free, the last few years have been something of a disappointment. On the global stage, the world is on fire. Every few months Greece almost falls apart. The streets of Syria are soaked in blood and violence. Our relationship with Iran is continuing to deteriorate. While I’m sure the world has always been full of bad news, the wall-to-wall coverage we now receive is enough to dishearten anyone. That’s where the Olympics come in. In a world of struggle and suffering, the Olympics are a celebration of human accomplishment and perseverance. Athletes from entirely different backgrounds compete side-by-side – not crippled by hate or mistrust – just the desire to do their very best. We cheer for them. We cry with them. We care for them.
The joy of gold
Photo credit: Reuters In English
In a world of reality television and celebrity scandals, the Olympics offer us real role models. Real heroes. Real people. Gabby Douglas, who took the Gold Medal in women’s all-around gymnastics, did not get to the top because of a publicist or a tabloid scandal. She got there with hard work, commitment and a dream. When we cheered for her, we were cheering for history in the making, something good and pure and real – not some contrived personality created by advertising executives. And when Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian in history and Usain Bolt once again claimed the title “fastest man in the world,” we were cheering for real heroes and real human accomplishments. No one is perfect and I’m certain there are many who could find flaws in Douglas, Phelps, or Bolt (or anyone), but they went out there and pushed the limits of what the human mind and body are capable of achieving, and for that we have cause to celebrate.
Credit image: On Being
Finally, I am moved by the deep sense of respect that permeates the Olympics. Athletes overwhelmingly understand the magnitude of the moment and the respect it demands. In a time when it seems we have little respect for anything and nothing is off limits for exploitation or criticism, the athletes at the Olympics do their best to display respect for the games and one another. Check out this video of Jamaican Usain Bolt pausing an interview to show respect for Jamaican-American Sanya Richards-Ross’s medal ceremony. No one would have criticized him for continuing the interview. Similarly, when John Leonard accused swimming superstar Ye Shiwen of doping after swimming faster than American Ryan Lochte, the world responded “not cool, dude” and Lochte himself said “She's fast and if she was out there with me, she might be able to beat me too.”
I think that’s why I love the Olympics. It’s a moment, once every four years (two if you like the winter, and I do), when we can congratulate each other, celebrate each other, and be truly mesmerized by the limits of the human body, mind and spirit.
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