How can everything turn out so right when everything seemed so wrong? The Rio Olympics had two strikes against it before it even started. The venues were not ready, the bay was tainted with all manner of vile substances, and even the dorm rooms for athletes were not fully furnished. To add to the series of problems a portion of the Russian Olympic Team was banned from the games because of drug use in the weeks before the opening ceremonies.
Still, as old Yankee catcher Yogi Berra would tell you, “It ain’t over until it’s over.” The Rio Olympics was looking at its last strike when it hit a home run. Who could have asked for more? The U.S. is bringing home a truck load of medals including some that were expected and some that could only be described as shocking surprises. Michael Phelps took his horde of gold medals into the stratosphere in swimming. He now has 23 gold medals in case you are counting, more than twice as many as any other Olympian in history. The U.S. Gymnastics team won the gold medal with Simone Biles and Aly Raisman placing first and second in the all-around. That is the fourth straight Olympics where an American woman has won the all-around. And, the U.S. had a number of athletes like Kristine Armstrong, Kayla Harrison, Lilly King, and Virginia Thrasher who burst onto the international scene with gold medals in sports like cycling, Judo, and air rifle. Worthy of note is that Simone Manuel became the first person of her race to win a Gold Medal in an individual event in swimming.
Lest you missed it among the avalanche of medals won by USA athletes several smaller countries like Singapore, Uzbekistan, and New Zealand are taking home gold medals as well. In the U.S. we celebrate our athletic successes state by state and town by town. In those small countries they declare a national holiday and a gold medal winner becomes a national celebrity whose face is on every billboard and whose name becomes the first name of every new child born of his/her gender. Such is national pride in countries whose names we only hear every fourth year.
Each Olympics year I hear people who don’t usually watch sports on TV talk about the events letting us know that they, like the rest of us, are glued to their TV sets. One can get philosophical and identify the games as something transcendent that stirs that spark inside of all of us for perfection, for rewards at the end of hard work, for success in the face of overwhelming odds. The Olympic Games has all of the features of a giant ceremonial feast that feeds our better instincts. People coming from many different places and circumstances lay aside their differences, and in spectacular event after spectacular event declare their commitment to a single noble ideal. That ideal is that we can all live together in harmony, in peace, and within a human bond that we all share. The Olympic Games affirm both human diversity and human universality.
Unfortunately, when it is over we have to go back to our real lives, back to our work-a-day world, back to an endless political campaign that continually draws us down to our lowest common denominator. Still, for just a short two weeks we are elevated to the heights brought to us by the world’s young people who express for us the idealism we once had, the innate desire in all of us for becoming more than we are, maybe even more than we can be. Ahhh, to recapture the dream just for a few short weeks may be enough to help us keep our eye on the goal; a better world, a better country, a better home town, a better ME.
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.