Viewpoint: Finding the Olympic Spirit

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I’m usually not a big sports fan. I watch BYU football games and — being from Pittsburgh — will defend the Steelers until my dying breath. (Seriously, don’t mess with  me when it comes to the Steelers. It gets ugly). That’s normally it. I don’t follow March Madness, the NBA playoffs or Major League Baseball. Sports usually aren’t a high priority for me.

[media-credit name=”iStock” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]That all changes every four years when the Olympics come to town. I love the Olympics. For those few weeks, I’m glued to the coverage. Growing up, the Olympics were the one time when a bedtime went completely away. I would watch until my eyes couldn’t stay open any more, and I drifted off to sleep dreaming of triathlons and medal ceremonies.

I become fiercely competitive and patriotic during this time. I root for our beach volleyball team and pray Michael Phelps wins as many heats as possible. The last Olympics’ women’s gymnastics nearly had me tearing out my hair when it came to the stiff competition between the U.S. and China.

In short, I’m obsessed.

In ancient times, the Olympics became a way of uniting Hellenistic culture in a land often torn by feuds and political entanglements. It created a united sense of being Greek rather than just Spartan or Athenian.

In the late 1800s, Pierre de Coubertin helped establish the revival of the modern Olympic games. Again, the games became a way of uniting the human race despite cultural or regional differences. It was a way to celebrate best athletes of the human race, despite background.

“The Olympic Games were created for the exaltation of the individual athlete,” de Coubertin declared. In celebrating this spirit, he said, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”

This spirit was highlighted in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. In Germany, Adolf Hitler had already begun implementing themes of the master race. Jews, gypsies and other non-Arians had been pushed to the fringes of society. In this atmosphere, athletes from across the world, including African-American Jesse Owens, gathered in Berlin.

Jesse Owens went on to win 4 gold medals in the 100 meter, 200 meter, 4×100 relay and long jump. He showed the world, and Germany, the color of his skin did not prevent him from being an amazing athlete.

Another Olympian, Herb Elliots stated, “It is the inspiration of the Olympic Games that drives people not only to compete but to improve, and to bring lasting spiritual and moral benefits to the athlete and inspiration to those lucky enough to witness the athletic dedication.”

The Olympics provide a stage for people of all background to meet on an equal playing field — something that rarely happens in a world divided between haves and have-nots. It increases national pride, while simultaneously bringing all of humanity closer together.

Even as we root for our own athletes, we appreciate the extreme talent and dedication to the sport each participant brings to the field.

John Williams, a composer who has written the theme music for several Olympic games, stated, “The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that’s wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us.”

The next few weeks, as we marvel at the peak of human endurance and agility, let’s enjoy the peace and cooperation that comes with it. Just as we hope to live the Christmas spirit all year round, may we hope to carry the Olympic flame with us  between the games.

Katie Harmer is the issues and ideas editor at The Universe. This viewpoint represents her opinions and not necessarily those of BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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