I’m sorry. I need to apologize for not getting this reflection to you last night. You see, I got home around 7:00 and most of my family were watching the Olympics. Ice skating. Women’s short program. So I grabbed some dinner and had to join them. Then one of Colleen’s friends came over to watch with us and somehow we were transported to South Korea and the night disappeared.
Of course, I take no responsibility. It was the Olympics. They have a special pull, a kind of athletic enchantment. I know the Olympics are not “pure” – they’re no longer only for amateurs, there are ongoing problems with doping, complaints against the IOCC are perennial.
But maybe all these problems make it even more remarkable that the Olympic spirit of excellence and peace still finds a way to shine through.
What the athletes are able to do verges on the superhuman. How? How do they soar through the air like that and not kill themselves when they land? How do they manage such speeds and find a way to keep their balance and stay on the track? How do they do so many spins in the air or lift their leg way over their head as if they were Gumby in the flesh? I mean, really! And how do some of these athletes do these remarkable things at the tender age of 18 or 16?? Or, in the Paralympic games, with physical limitations that would sideline most of us. It’s crazy!
Often I can’t help but gasp, or applaud, or tear-up when an athlete has accomplished the impossible. No matter what country he/she is from, I’ll loudly groan if that skier/skater/snowboarder falls, and in that flash of a moment everything they’ve been working for and have sacrificed, all their Olympic dreams, crash.
And no matter what country of origin, if an athlete performs in a beautiful, remarkable way, I cheer. While I cheer exuberantly for the Canadians and am incredibly biased, there’s something beyond the medal count. Watching the athletes themselves offer congratulatory hugs and shared celebrations with competitors from other countries is inspiring. Those of us in Vancouver in 2010 remember the generous spirit on the street, high-fiving people from around the world. A glimpse, perhaps, of another kingdom.
At bottom, isn’t that what the Olympics are about? Seeing people from different countries who speak different languages and eat different kinds of food and maybe worship a different understanding of God. I know it’s not pure, Grace, but in a world where more people are wanting to put up walls and protective barriers, a phenomenon like the Olympics seems all the more important for this underlying message that we’re all human beings who want essentially the same things: a safe environment, enough to eat, clothes and shelter, education and opportunities for our children, healthcare, love.
The modern Olympics began in France in the late 19th century with the hope of furthering world peace. I may be naïve, but I still believe that spirit shines through. It can still inspire Olympic-sized dreams for victory – for us all.
I know, that sounds a lot like the kingdom of God. But who says that hope belongs only to the church?