I like the Olympic games. The competition is exciting, both as athletes exult in succeeding and as others fall short of their lofty dreams. The extremes of victorious rejoicing and bitter disappointment are expected in a “safe” environment. These are, after all, only games.
We live in times when international tensions among governments and different ideologies are dramatic. Sadly, wars between nations and within nations abound. A fierce nationalism is evident across the globe. I’m well aware that even in past Olympics events some who failed to meet high expectations went home and were disrespected by petty demagogues.
Still, to me, the Olympic Games give us a glimpse of what might be if we could base international relationships on interpersonal relationships among peers — in this case athletic competitors. Without question, the athletic competition itself is fierce. These are world-class athletes. But they can appreciate the athletic prowess of each other. They can respect each other. Sometimes, lifelong friendships result from these on-the-field encounters.
The environment is one in which it should be safe to fail to win. The vast majority of participants cannot advance to the medal stand to claim a gold, silver or bronze medal. Or even to make the finals of individual or team competitions. But losing a race or an event need not result in a ruined life. Tears were created to dry quickly. The athletic field rarely presents life-and-death situations. Win or lose, this is still a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Broadcasters introduce us to intriguing stories about many of the athletes and open the window to new places, new cultures and new people to most viewers. The whole world — created by God — is significantly larger than my little corner of it. It helps all of us to expand our horizons a bit. The more we understand about God’s wonderful creation, the more complete each of us become. We become wiser and better for it.
I can remember as a child cheering in every race or athletic for the Americans to win. All things being equal, I still lean that way, of course. I am grateful to be an American. But I have grown to appreciate outstanding preparation and effort on the part of others, too. In my heart, I can’t help but cheer on a deserving underdog.
As the Olympics remind me, I am part of the human family, the same as every participant. And, well, family is family.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.