The Olympics are a wonder. I root for every American yet cannot root against any athlete, each a miracle of achievement, beauty, and realized human potential. The American women of the gymnastics team were all smiles and breathless joy after winning gold while their main competition, the
Russians, who won silver, were in tears.
Female gymnasts are usually tiny and very young. The American team, wonder kids all, are in fact, children. When each completed a performance, she rushed into hugs from every teammate and coach. For the Russians, maybe a quick obligatory hug from a coach, but nothing like the loving embraces that nestled every American. Did it translate into better performance? Surely something beyond sheer physical prowess is at work, a combination of passion, intensity, morale, confidence, and whatever propels
an athlete to outdo herself one day and fall back another.
The Olympic spirit has always been, “It’s not whether you win, but whether you take
part in the games.” It’s great to win gold, but carried too far, it diminishes the Olympic spirit. A football coach named Henry Sanders (also attributed to Vince Lombardi) said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” I’d never want a kid of mine to be near such a coach or exposed to such a corrosive attitude, everything the Olympic spirit is not.
Watching eight lanes of swimmers pummel through the water, each a champion
in his or her own country, the TV broadcast fixates on the leader at the end of each lap, and zooms in on the winner, ignoring the rest. Is that why the Russian kids were crying after having won silver medals?
The drive to be number one gave our species mastery over Planet Earth. Will it also be the reason we destroy it? A grim thought amid the glorious Olympic saturnalia, and
yet a shadow cast behind every shining Olympic star.