For most of this week, my family has been immersed in the quadrennial ritual known as the Olympics. I absolutely love it, and it is a firm rule in my house that if the TV is on, we are watching Olympic events of some kind. It is one of the few times of the year that the kids are expected to watch too much TV, and are not allowed to go to bed before 11:00. But what is it about the Olympics that draws us in?
For starters, the Olympics are educational. It is fun to learn about the nations that are competing. For example, this is the only time that I have any interest whatsoever in the nation of Djibouti (Yes, it is pronounced Ja-Booty). Apparently fellow St. Louis native Bob Costas has the same humor as I do. As the six-member team representing Djibouti entered the auditorium in the parade of nations, Costas said, “If there was an award for country name that makes you smile, Djibouti would win the gold.”
He didn’t need to say it; I was already smiling.
A few days later I decided I would check in and see how the athletes from Djibouti were doing. I found that Yasmin Harah Hasan represented Djibouti in women’s table tennis early on in the games. Unfortunately, she lost 0-4 to Brazil’s Caroline Kumahara (ouch!), and with that loss, Yasmin’s Olympic dreams are over.
I guess you could say Brazil whooped Djibouti.
Aside from table tennis competition, Djibouti was in the pool, Djibouti was on the Judo mat, and three athletes will be showing off the best of Djibouti in the track and field events in the coming days. You know you don’t want to miss that. Djibouti’s only previous Olympic medal came as a Men’s Marathon bronze in the 1988 Olympics, and anything is possible!
More importantly, the Olympics are a history that unites us. The whole world is watching, and what happens today won’t happen again. The athletes that are at the games now may or may not be back in four years.
If there is a Jesse Owens moment
a Mary Lou Retton moment
or a Kerri Strug moment
I want to be watching it happen. Those moments are still moving, and I want to share in the history as it unfolds, not just hear about it the next morning.
The Olympics invite us to invest emotionally in the history that is happening as it is happening.
I didn’t know much about gymnast Jordyn Wieber a month ago, but my heart broke for her when she failed to qualify for the gymnastics “all-around”. And when Michael Phelps swims his final lap as an Olympian this week, I’m sure I will experience the bittersweet moment right along with him. So will a few hundred million of my closest friends. These will become the great, “hey, do you remember when!” stories from Olympics past.
For these few short weeks, the world is watching athletes from homelands great and small who have earned the right to proudly represent their nation.
For these few short weeks, bitter rivals are gracious in victory and in defeat; they share a mutual respect because they know what it takes to be there. They know what it takes to be Olympians.
For these few short weeks we will hear words like Effort, Integrity, Determination, Sportsmanship, Character, and Perseverence more often than usual, and that is a good thing.
The way I see it, we can all learn something from that.