There are skeptics and critics out there that frown judgingly at what the Olympics has become. A competition among scientists, say some. Whose performance enhancing drugs are undetectable and who is going to get caught? Which country can pump out the fiercest machines disguised as athletes in the greatest quantity? Who has the most money to spend? Well, you know what? Fine. Maybe that’s true. But only if you choose to look at it that way.
Eirinn told me last week on our way to gymnastics that she was going to practice until she sweats because she wants to go to the Olympics. She knows that in order to get there, she must practice very hard and that equals sweating. This is a girl who quit soccer after one season because there’s “too much running.” She quit dance after one year because it was boring. In gymnastics, she has found her niche. She practices with a smile across her face that does not move. She works her little bum off and gives every little move one hundred percent and in watching the Olympics, she sees what all her hard work can evolve into. For the first time in her life, she’s been exposed to role models in a discipline that excites her and has set goals for herself, no matter how lofty. I won’t tell her the probability of her making it to the Olympic stage, or even maintaining her interest in the sport for that long, is slim because this is what she hopes and dreams for right now. I won’t deny her that dream.
She also wants to compete in figure skating and swimming. The girl knows how to set a goal. Shoot for the moon, and all that.
Is there anything else that unites the world like the Olympics does? Positively, I mean. I can’t think of a single thing that promotes such camaradery and brotherhood through competition, that distracts us from all the negativity, that encourages sportsmanship and fitness and achievement through hard work and dedication. Sure, there are some bad eggs, some tough calls, but if we look past that for just a moment, let’s try to drink in the positive. Who among us didn’t pull for Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who became the first runner to compete on prosthetic limbs. Who didn’t feel a pang of residual pride for Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, the first Saudi woman to ever compete in the games. Whose heart didn’t ache for Paula Findlay, the Canadian triathlete who, despite being a favourite going in, came in last, crying and apologizing to everyone holding a Canadian flag as she ran to the finish line. Who didn’t hold their breath as Jamaican Usain Bolt sped to another record finish. These may not be your countrymates, but during the Olympics, there are times when we’re all in this thing together. Sometimes we’re allowed to simply be excited about the fact that we were alive to experience these stories with each other.
The Games are too commercial, the judging too corrupt, the competition too unfair at times, sure, but that is not what the Olympics is all about. You can choose to be cynical and pessimistic and blow them off as a waste of energy, time, and money. Or you can enjoy them. Enjoy the sport, enjoy the friendly rivalry among countries, and enjoy that these people, these athletes, are living and fulfilling their dreams they, too, once had while being driven to practice when they were six.