Topical Sunday: The Olympics

I’ve watched every Olympic Games since the 2004 Summer Games in Athens – every opening ceremony and as many of the events as I could manage. I watched Phelps win every single medal in Beijing and I watched as Bode Miller disappointed everyone in Turino.

The kind of sports that I like best aren’t the kind they show on TV. I like sports where an individual competes. I like sports that involve as much mental warfare as physical, where you may have many rivals, but none greater than yourself. Tennis, to me, is like this. Tennis is a mind game. Yes, you must have great form and technique to do well, but so many tennis matches are lost in the head of the player. I’m intrigued by gymnastics, where athletes compete amidst immense pressure from themselves, their parents, their teammates and everyone watching. One slight misjudgment, and you fall flat on your back  – or worse – and must greet failure instead of success. Even archery is a mental game, where you must fight your own stress and inner doubt to conquer the bow and shoot straight. When you race, you are fighting not only against the people to your left and right, but your own inner limitations as well.

Though I admire the athletes, team sports do not impress me half as much as individual events or those with only a few teammates. But this is not a popular viewpoint among my countrymen and with the exception of tennis, it is almost exclusively during the Olympics that these sports are given air time. I take great pleasure in watching these events, and try to imagine what the athletes go through, mentally, to come out victorious. I guess I’ve always loved trying to figure out the way people think…

I love the idea of the Olympics. I love that we, as a world, come together every two years and send our best athletes to compete against one another in good spirit. I love that politics are put aside, to an extent, and we fight not with guns and bombs, but with human might and the unending desire to push – higher, faster, stronger.

This year though, the Olympics are more dear to me than ever. They are more than a chance to watch my favorite type of sport, more than a spectacle of patriotism. This year, the Olympics are in London.

Having just returned from a most life-altering five months in England, I miss the place desperately. I miss ancient buildings, the likelihood of seeing a random sheep on a daily basis, the food, the smells, the hard cider, and well, the accents.

I was in the UK for the lead up to the Games. I listened to residents grumble about the ruckus to be caused. I saw the signs for the changed traffic patterns and read articles about whether or not the country was ready and whether or not this was all a very good idea and how many British citizens are going to run very, very  far away during the actual Games.  I imagine that London was a bit miserable between the Jubilee and the Opening of the Games, especially counting in the fact that this June was their wettest on record (I left just in time!). I’ll admit that I am actually quite glad to not currently be in London – it’s a mad enough city when the population is it’s normal eight million, rather than the additional eleven million expected in and around for the Games.

Still, every time NBC shows a sweeping view of London or Great Britain, I get a strange feeling. It’s a combination of immense joy, because I’ve BEEN THERE!! and deep sadness because who knows when I’ll be there again.

The Opening Ceremonies on Friday made me tear up on several occasions, but none more so than the Cauldron lighting ceremony. Two hundred small copper pots lit simultaneously, raised in the air to form one giant Olympic Cauldron. Individually, we shine. We glow, we burn brightly. But it is when we all join together that we create the greatest light of all.

If there is anything that I learned during my time abroad, it is that people from different parts of the world are not so different as we are wont to believe. And when we join together, either in conversation or in some great effort, we can bring light to the world.

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