Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Olympics: The Crucible of Our Race

The Olympics are a crucible of the human experience. All of the emotions, pressures, struggles, redemption, and dedication is very much present when we see athletes competing to be the best in the world. For me this is a large part of why sport is so intriguing and interesting - and the Olympics are like a championship game for two weeks worth of television viewing!

From watching the athletes prepare for an event, concentrating hard on what they are relying on their bodies to do, while also trying to be relaxed enough to do it their best is captivating. Pressure has built up to the moment when it is simply time to perform. Four years or more of training and preparation leads to mere seconds or minutes of execution. That is pressure, and we see from divers to swimmers to gymnasts to shooters to wrestlers how some people step up to the pressure and how many others have small cracks. These hundredths of seconds or points are what separate gold from not being on the medal podium, and each athlete knows it. Yet, for most athletes they also have this pressure because they know what they are capable of, and the hope that they can perform their best at the most opportune time.

Then, the events themselves demonstrate so much of what the potential of humanity is. The 100 meter dash is always amazing to me, when humans truly get to a full-out sprint. The strides and form of running are so much different than jogging. Other feats of strength, endurance, coordination, and accuracy make the Olympics a beacon of what we are capable of, at least physically and mentally (focus, hard work, etc).

The joys and sadness, heartbreak and exuberance, give the emotional spectrum of the human experience as well. Who cannot feel at least a bit joyous watching Andy Murray finally break through and beat Roger Federer in his home country for the Olympic tennis crown? Who doesn't love seeing the smiles of gold, silver, and bronze medalists alike? Similarly, are we not all touched by the agonies of injury, misstep, or maybe simply being tight and not up to par on a particular day? Hearts wrenched when a young lady misses sticking a landing on a vault, or exhaustion from just not having that extra gear in swimming that pushes them to a medal are also commonplace.

Which leads also to the fact that for a majority of the Olympians, being at the Olympics is the reward in and of itself. They know they have no chance at a medal, but they also know that they are performing at their personal best. I love seeing many of the athletes from small countries during the opening ceremonies that are just soaking in the moment.

Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee who competed in the 400, was an example. The smile on his face, the satisfaction of meeting his goal, was obvious after finishing the semifinals. He did not move on to the finals, but he still was content. He competed, and competed well, against the world's top 400 runners. He was satisfied with his times and with making the semifinals, as the interview with him showed.

The Olympics give us these stories and the range of human experience. Every four years the world shifts their focus into this crucible of humanity, because really we all find ourselves in the athletes, don't we? We all have those things we work towards, whether career, hobby, relationship, or other activity. We want to succeed, even though we know we need to be realistic about our goals. Not all of us are medal-winners, and comparison is not in our best interests. Its that internal realization that we are doing the best we can, and recognizing our place within the pressures and contests of life.

Sometimes we fail, other times we succeed. Sometimes our success isn't seen as success by the world, because it is a personal best, but not a world record. This is ok. When we fall, we get back up and try again. When we succeed, we show joy but also maintain some dignity and respect for the fellow competitors.

Did you see this video (UPDATE: It seems the video has been removed from the websites for licensing reasons??) about Usain Bolt after winning the 100 meters? He was being interviewed when the medal ceremony for the women's 400 meters came on. Out of respect for this ceremony, he halted his interview and paid respects to the US's Sanya Richards-Ross on her win, waiting until the National Anthem was complete.

Do we live with such class ourselves? Do we run our race, working towards finishing well?

Each of us is endowed with gifts by our Creator, and each is uniquely talented in various tasks. I realize I need to be better in praising and celebrating these daily expressions of our potential, of our victories. I also need to be there with encouragement and support as people slip or stumble. I hope that you are there for me, but all I can do is bring that respect for others.

The Golden Rule is evident in the golden games. The sportsmanship of sport still hinting and guiding us towards treating others as we would want to be treated.

So while we continuing watching the triumphs and tragedies of the Olympics for the next week, we can perhaps learn a thing or two about what unites us in this world and how each of us is running our race according to our ability, and so to stop and acknowledge each other's accomplishments along the way.

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