Oh, do I love the Olympics! Seeing the outer limits of what the human body—and will—is capable of, even if only on the TV screen, is a thrill. The breathtaking combination of intensely developed, will-driven technical skill with the pure beauty of the body in motion takes me right out of my busy thoughts and into a zone of wordless appreciation. If I had a nickel for every time I utter a dumb-founded “Wow!” watching the Olympics, I could take my husband out to the most expensive restaurant in town. Twice.
A big part of my romance with the Olympics is the trove of wonderful stories it always supplies about obstacles overcome, returns from failure, and seemingly super-human persistence. They are like hope in a bottle, inspiration in a visible, undeniable three-dimensional form. Who can resist these testimonies to effort and redemption? Over and over they telegraph one of life’s most important messages: Never give up.
While I love the sport side of the Olympics, I’m kind of over the hoopla of the opening ceremonies. It’s truly uplifting to see athletes from every corner of the earth marching together, all with expressions of joy and gratitude verging on disbelief at where they find themselves. I’m also intrigued by the elements of the host country’s culture incorporated into the ceremonies. But it seems that they’ve also become an opportunity to impress the rest of the world with more and more spectacular shows of technological prowess and national pride. It’s showing off, with an undertone of political one-ups-man-ship.
Unfortunately, these days the extravagant ceremonies of the Games are not the only place where the flotsam of political and social discord wash up on its shores. The performance of North and South Korean athletes together is a hopeful sign of possible future cooperation. The image of the U.S. Vice President unwilling to acknowledge the presence of North Korea’s representative sitting mere feet away is not.
A magnificent feat of athleticism in snow-boarding is tarnished by sexual misconduct swept under the rug. Two highly-visible people, one a talented skater and the other the U.S. Vice President, are unable to overcome opposing beliefs and lifestyles to have a civil exchange. Rather than unconditional support for athletes representing our country, some are trolled online because of expressing a political opinion. An entire country is disqualified due to organized doping of its athletes.
Certainly, the world in which the Olympics take place is an increasingly complex place where no one is immune to negative news and attitudes. But I don’t think it’s too much to hope that they can and will still provide us with a refreshing respite from all that. Witnessing the amazing things we’re physically capable of, the coordination and cooperation between nations that the Games demand, give us a strong hint of what we can accomplish in human relations nationally and globally if we really have the will and put our minds to it.
I intend to keep watching, “Wow”-ing, and hoping that, rather than the divisiveness of the world eroding the Olympics, the lessons of the Olympics will spill over to the world: it will require all the blood, sweat and tears we can muster to bridge our divides—and victory is possible.
Alexandra Piacenza is a 10-year resident of Prescott, retired from a career in technical writing and strategic planning. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org..