Comment: remembering what the Olympics represent
August 15, 2008
The Olympic Games in Beijing, China began last week. I hope we all take some time to celebrate what the Olympics represent.
I can here the cynics out there laughing. The Olympics are all about money, they will say. They are all about cheating and drugs, crooked judges and bureaucratic foul-ups.
Well, you see those in the Olympics every four years, to be sure. But you also see a celebration of many of humanity's better qualities. You see joy, determination, grace and power. You see generosity of spirit, friendship and sacrifice. Those are attributes to celebrate.
Every four years I look forward to watching the games. I don't devote all my time to them as I did in my younger days, but I pick and choose what to watch. It gets easier to do so. There are literally thousands of hours on various cable channels. There is also endless coverage on the Internet, complete with replays and live coverage, on-demand, of your favorite events.
I'll watch track and field as a fan. I'll watch soccer because I love the flow of the game. I will feel a sense of pride when an American wins and smile with pleasure when I see a tear streaked athlete salute Old Glory rising to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. Most of you will probably do the same.
I try to do a bit more when I watch the Olympics, too. I try to watch for what has become the real spirit of the games - the celebration of participation for its own sake.
In the original Olympics the ancient Greeks cared little for the valiant loser. To the Greeks the victor was celebrated, the vanquished were looked at with contempt.
Winning was everything.
When the modern games were resurrected more than a century ago the founders did not envision an all-encompassing celebration of world sport. Rather they looked for a contest between gentlemen of leisure - the only people who had enough relief from the grind of daily existence to train for sports.
Over the years, the world's view of the Olympics has changed. For most of the athletes, getting to the Olympics is the dream. The bigger the Games become, the smaller the percentage of athletes with any real chance to earn a medal. The others come just to be there and compete. So, while I watch the competition and enjoy seeing some of the world's greatest perform, I also look for the other end of the athletic spectrum.
Look to the swimmer in the outside lane finishing last in a qualifying heat - and celebrating because she was in the pool. Glory in the 10,000-meter runner who is lapped in front of millions of viewers, but smiles broadly at the finish. Feel proud for the athlete from a tiny nation you never heard of, who strides around the stadium, grandly carrying his nation's flag as one of two or three athletes on the entire team.
Those people are Olympic heroes, too. And they demonstrate an optimistic side of human nature that we should all look to in these troubled times.
I hope you all find time to enjoy your favorite Olympic events. Just take some time to look for the spirit behind it all.
David W. Kuhns Sr. is the editor of Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.