Thursday, February 16, 2006

Watching the Olympics

I have mixed feelings when I watch the Olympics.

On the one hand, I don’t particularly like the “rah-rah, my country is better than your country, look at how many medals we have” attitude. Yet, on the other hand, I love the notion that nations can come together in a joint endeavour for peaceful, even idealistic purposes; the notion that athletes can compete just for the purity of their sport.

Naïve? Maybe. But I want to look beyond the doping scandals; beyond the politics; beyond the judge-tampering; beyond the egos. I want to forget about medal predictions and the ensuing mega bucks involved in sponsorship deals. I know all of these exist, but I’d like to look beyond all the negatives just long enough to remind myself that there are nobler reasons for the Olympics.

Instead, I want to see those thousands of athletes who attend the Olympics with no real chance of winning a medal, but are happy just to participate on this particular world stage. I want to see the individuals pushing themselves to their limits, further than they ever thought possible, just to see what they can achieve. It’s like people who enter marathons, with no hope of winning, but with the satisfaction of saying they competed and crossed the finish line.

Sure, I'll be there, in front of my TV, cheering on the Canadian hockey teams and gritting my teeth with anxiety as I watch Emmanuel Sandhu go up for his triple axel, but deep down, I like the stories of athletes from some remote village who decided that it would be cool to try bobsledding or ski jumping or some other unlikely sport and end up at the Olympics. I'm a sucker for the underdog.

Yesterday, in the women's cross-country ski team sprint, Canadian Sara Renner broke a pole mid-way through the race (she later described it as being like canoeing without a paddle). A Norwegian team coach saw what happened and handed her a replacement. Renner and Becky Scott ended up winning a silver medal. The Norwegian didn't have to do what he did, but he did it anyway. When thanked and interviewed about it later, Norwegian officials downplayed it, saying it was the right thing to do and why would anyone think it was unusual? You see, it's things like this that give me hope there is such a thing as true sportsmanship and the Olympic ideal.

I want to think of an international event that gives promise to peace and understanding, if only we’d give it a chance - and dare I say it, echo the words of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, sung at the opening ceremonies.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.

Yeah, I know, I’m just an old-school hippie at heart.


Anonymous said...

I feel this way, too, and love the spirit of the Olympics. It is also amazing to see athletes who are the best in the world at what they do. Only a tiny fraction of one percent of people can say they competed in the Olympics. Just getting there is a major accomplishment that takes tremendous dedication, focus, talent, and effort. It's an elite group.

Anonymous said...

i am pathetic. i am mad at the olympics because coronation street has been pre-empted because of them.

*sigh* i don't know what this says about me.

Anonymous said...

Coronation Street, eh? Have you seen this site?

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard that story about the skier - very heart-warming. I'm not into sports but I've loved the Olympics since I was a little kid and I can't help getting caught up in the patriotism - but also, like you, I love the stories of all the athletes have overcome. Not just the ones from little Korean villages, but even some of the American athletes. And I loved the story about the Chinese figure skating coach, how he and his 12-year-old partner were the first Chinese to compete in skating in the Olympics, trained from looking at still photos (no video even!) with the girl in a crash helmet to learn throws, etc, and then they came in dead last and got laughed at. So sad, but that man has built to Chinese team from scratch - and no one is laughing now!