Sunday, July 29, 2012

Let the Games Roll On

I'm already immersing myself in the Olympics. I've done so since I was 14 and watching my first - the Winter Games from Grenoble, then, a few months later, the Summer Games from Mexico City. Those were amazing games for a kid who watched them in a constant state of awe, admiration and surprise.

For one thing, I experienced the world that I was still discovering, coming together in a way that underscored all that is the same about us. I'd lived overseas already - 2 years in Germany starting when I was eight - but I didn't know that so many countries existed! Not really. And to see a parade with citizens of all these distant and rumoured lands, some wearing garb that reflected their different climes and customs...Wow! It was one of the most connecting experiences I’ve ever had through a television screen. It was eye-opening to me that the world is so big.

And then, the unfolding of competition after competition, putting these various nationals side by side, in demonstrations of all the amazing things the human body can do. Night after night I was presented with races and games and rounds and matches in sports I'd only heard of, if that. Badminton, the slalom, greco-roman wrestling (nothing like the wrestling I sometimes saw on tv on Friday nights, featuring the likes of Haystack Calhoun). There was bobsled and luge, figure skating, the high hurdles and discus, weight-lifting and archery. And gynmastics. That was the most fabulous. The things the gymnasts did were impossiblly beyond the every day.

I saw individual after individual attain a seemingly mythic dimension. There was Bob Beamon's amazing long jump, that broke the existing long jump record by almost two feet. And there was Dick Fosbury's flop, which forever changed the high jump. My very first Olympic hero was Jean-Claude Killy, the skier who took 3 Gold Medals. Another was Al Oerter, winning his 4th consecutive gold in discus, his first having come when I was only two. And there was the dominence of the Japanese men and the Chech woman, Vera Caslavska, in gymnastics, taking event after event. There was Kipchoge Keino and the other North African distrance runners, from Kenya, Tunisia and Ethiopia. And of course, very important to my political awakening, were Tommie Smith and John Carlos, with their black-gloved hands raised in protest toward the American flag, after winning medals in the 200 meter sprint.

I don't care that there are so many other more beneficial things that could be funded by Olympic money. And I know that the ideals of the games: equality of opportunity, inclusion, remaining non-political, etc., are compromised in various ways - by having tickets priced beyond the affordability of the local populations, to start - and that, after compelling those populations to make sacrifices to pull the Games off.

But I still believe in what the Olympics represent to me: exploring, appreciating and celebrating excellence, and I think them worth the cost and the compromises they engender. When arguments are made about the waste of money, it sounds to me like chiding for having my piece of apple pie, when I might have had a bowl of spinach and radishes instead. I’m not much moved by it. I would no sooner turn my back on sport than I would on art. Both are gateways into more fully realizing possiblity, beauty, commitment, gratitude, and glimpsing the realm of the magical.

I'm gonna enjoy squandering all of my free time in front of the television over the next two weeks. Many moments of amazement are to come!

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