Sunday, July 29, 2012
1. I enjoy learning a bit about the history and culture of the host country. This is mostly present in the opening and closing ceremonies. We are often let in on little jokes that are special to the host country, and we get a chance to relate to the country and understand them in ways we probably haven’t been able to previously. Their goal is to impress us and make us love them. I can honestly say that after watching London’s opening ceremony, they succeeded in those goals, at least with me. Some people found it bizarre, but I’ve always kind of dug the bizarre and unusual, so I loved it! We’ve planned a visit to the British Isles all along, and we’re now talking about doing it in a couple of years. The music alone reminded me how much I love the British music scene...what a wonderful connection we have with them there. One quick example: Mick and Keith were obsessed with American blues. They took those influences and created the Rolling Stones, which in turn shaped our music scene. (I give that example because I love the Stones; there are many others to be made.) Danny Boyle used British music history perfectly in the opening ceremony.
2. The Olympics are about equality. Every athlete has a chance to compete against the best in the world. Obviously, many countries have larger Olympic Committees with bigger budgets and more money for training. But any incredibly talented athlete who is willing to put in the work necessary to train is a competitor. I’m guessing that Jamaica doesn’t have a huge Olympics training budget, but look what Usain Bolt did in the last Summer Olympics. Amazing! This equality is even more apparent this year, as the U.S. Olympic team has more female than male athletes for the first time in history. Every country participating has female athletes, including countries that have very oppressive policies towards women. One of the most powerful moments for me was seeing the Saudi Arabian women athletes marching with the team, flashing the victory sign. Sure, they were marching behind the men...but they were THERE. They’ve come a long way, baby, but still have a ways to go!
3. Even tiny nations are present. Again, large nations have large contingencies and lots of money, but small nations can compete, too. Last Olympics, I remember looking up Eritrea, so I could learn more about it. There were other small nations this time around that I’d never heard of, often with only two or three athletes. How much it must mean to them to be representing their country on the world stage!
4. These athletes are literally the best of the best. Their athleticism and talent is just amazing to behold. They have trained for thousands of hours, given up much of their lives, and have bled, cried, and puked in order to get to this point. Their focus and dedication is amazing to me. Some of their physiques take my breath away, both male AND female. Probably the best example of that is the gymnasts. Wow!
5. As I watched the opening ceremony, I was struck by the young, smiling faces of the athletes. They are so excited to be there, representing their countries, and they have so much living ahead of them. They embody the hope of youth. They remind me of how I felt at that age, and they help me realize that I still have much of that hope. I wish the best for them all, both at the Olympics and beyond. Not everyone will get a medal, but just being there means that they have already achieved something remarkable.
6. On a related note, I also noticed during the ceremonies that we are pretty much all the same. If the athletes were in their street clothes rather than their team uniforms, they would just sort of all blend together. Although you might be able to tell what region or heritage a person comes from, you would be hard-pressed to specify which country they were from. This speaks to the “equality” thing, and the Olympics remind me that we are all on this planet together, and that our similarities are greater than our differences.
7. Politics is usually left out of the Olympics. You may see a little bit here and there, but in general, the focus is on sport rather than ideology. The most notable exception to this was the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. We boycotted the former, along with several other nations, to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; the USSR and several other Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the latter as a response to OUR boycott. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that at the time. Sad about the boycotts, I suppose, but supportive of my country’s decision. I do not feel that way now, and believe that politics should not affect the Games or punish the athletes who have worked so hard to get there. Besides, Jesse Owens’ dominant performance in track and field at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin—which Hitler figured would show the superiority of his Aryan race—were one of the best statements that could have been made, peacefully, against an ideology. Still one of the most powerful moments in Olympic and world history, over 75 years later.
8. As someone who was obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology in grade school, I love the history of the Olympics. Begun in ancient Greece, the purpose now is essentially the same purpose as then: to bring together the best athletes in a spirit of competition and love of sport. Various sports have come and gone, and the athletes no longer compete sans clothing, but the essential philosophy of the Games has not changed. I think that’s pretty cool!
9. I love seeing the pride the athletes have, not just for their own remarkable accomplishments, but for their country. Who doesn’t get teary-eyed when you see a guy from some tiny country standing on the medal stand and weeping as his national anthem is played and his country’s flag is raised? Or a woman from the host country standing with honor as she receives her medal and the crowd sings their national anthem along with her? Gets me every. damn. time. To revisit #6, it’s a reminder that others love their country as much as we love ours, for reasons every bit as legitimate and honorable.
10. I get to watch sports I don’t normally watch, or am completely unfamiliar with. Late last night, I watched women’s weightlifting. This afternoon, I’m watching men’s water polo. Believe me, in non-Olympics years I don’t plan a big spread of snack food so we can hunker down in front of the TV for a water polo match, and I don’t plan Women’s Rowing parties! But during the Olympics, I am fascinated by all of these and more. Coverage is 24 hours for this Olympics, between various TV channels and live streaming. These athletes, no matter what sport, have worked hard to get here. I honor them by watching, and I am actually pretty fascinated by some of these unfamiliar sports. I try to balance it so that I can get things done, rather than be glued to the TV, but for the next couple of weeks, the TV will be on all day and much of the night. I’m happy to give CNN a rest for a while (although I’m still getting plenty of news in my daily reading) and enjoy the competition, no matter what it is. I love some of the usual favorites: gymnastics, track and field, swimming, and of course, basketball! (I’m a Hoosier!) But I enjoy whatever I watch, and found myself cheering for some of those surprisingly small women doing the clean and jerk last night! (And yes, I had a brief chuckle at the name of the event. The other one is the snatch. For real.)
So those are the main reasons I love the Olympics. We are proud supporters of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and we watch the Games faithfully. I get seriously choked up and weepy when watching, because I have so much respect for what these athletes have accomplished. I celebrate with them when they triumph, and I feel bad for them when they don’t. I won’t say “when they fail,” because none of them are failures. Making it to the Olympics means that they are all champions in my book. There is something pure about the Olympics to me. I love sports, as most of you know, and the Olympics is a potent distillation of all that is good and right about sports and the spirit of competition. There are often scandals, and ongoing problems with doping. But that takes nothing away from the essential meaning of the Olympics, which is the world’s best athletes representing their countries and coming together in amity and the spirit of friendly competition. That is very powerful to me.
One extra bonus for why I’m loving the London Olympics, specifically. These ladies got to carry the torch part of the way. That is Patsy and Eddie from the British comedy “Absolutely Fabulous,” which I adored when it aired on Comedy Central several years ago. They’re still hilarious!