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Hi everyone! My name is Aimee Siebert. I’m a junior at Bethel, and one of your new bloggers here at “Beyond the Green.”
As one of the millions of people coming up for air (or falling down for sleep) after the Beijing Olympics, I think I have some bloggable thoughts for this entry that have made it past the sleep-deprived hysteria.
Since they only come around every four years–I’m talking summer Olympics for now–The Olympics catch you at different points in your life every time they come around. I like to think I’m a pretty different person at 20 almost 21 than I was at 16 or 12 or 8. I know that I’m a much bigger and eclectic sports fan than I was before, so I think I enjoyed this Olympics more than all of the ones that came before.
But it’s not just me and other individual fans that have changed between Olympics. It’s the world. The Olympics are a global event. We probably pay attention to other countries more during these two weeks than we do for the other 206 weeks of four years. At what point are countries like Kenya and Ethiopia and Romania considered world powers other than the Olympics? Our focus is turned to those countries through the athletes that have had to deal with the state of their countries for the other 206 weeks. I wonder whether that’s why those countries are so good at endurance competitions, because they know that endure is not just a word for sports. We’re finally looking where the focus should have always been.
I’m not a particularly patriotic person on a normal day, so it’s sort of surprising how easily I get swept up in the victories of the athletes from my country during the Olympics. I cheer so hard for them, some of which I haven’t thought of since the last Olympics, some of which I’ve never heard of before. But I think that’s ok. I’m always of the opinion that being enthusiastic is the most rewarding when you are REALLY enthusiastic.
I like how that enthusiasm doesn’t just sweep up the susceptible like me, but people who are less naturally enthusiastic about those sorts of things. I was chatting with a friend from Wichita during the peak of the games, and since I had ate, slept and breathed the games so far, our conversation inevitably turned to it. She listened patiently then, accepting the link to the Men’s 4x100m free relay replay (if you haven’t seen it, go find it now!) just to mollify me…or so I thought. Later in the week after the Men’s 100m butterfly final (Go watch it!), I needed to let out some major tension and jubilation and ended up calling up that same friend. She was the one who picked up the phone and yelled, “Oh my God!” I was as excited about her excitement as I was about the fact that Michael Phelps had won the race.
And I like how global that enthusiasm is. I had a friend who was in India during the Olympics, and she told me about the mania surrounding one of their boxers. Vijender Kumar won the first boxing medal for India ever, and he’s a national hero now.
Obviously the Olympics and the competitive spirit they inspire are not completely perfect. The glorified gold medal can demean the rest of the efforts; either you’re on top or you’re not. Take the American pole vaulting coach berating his athlete publicly for getting silver following the world record holder who had just broken the world record again. I was not feeling so patriotic at that moment. More like disgusted.
Then there are the steroid scandals and age controversies that have dogged the modern Olympics for almost as long as they’ve been around. The drive to win is sometimes so insatiable, it will sacrifice the athlete it drives.
And then the media have their darlings, hyping the accomplishments and potentials of a select few athletes. It’s the worst when that hype comes at the expense of the other athletes who ought to be featured in the glory as well. I was excited about Michael Phelps’ accomplishments at these games, but even I, an admitted Phelps Phan, felt uncomfortable and indignant when the journalists turned to Michael Phelps after the relay victories that involved three other men to ask about his thoughts about his personal medal hunt.
In my most cynical moments, I start asking even harder questions. Michael Phelps, the obvious headliner of these games, swam seventeen races, won eight gold medals, set seven world records and one Olympic record. But what’s so special about, on one day, swimming faster than anyone else two times across a 50m pool, especially when the difference is a time epoch too fast for any of us to see?
Fortunately, my cynical side is not very strong, and my idealistic side is more than capable of looking deeper than the surface of the pool. (Ha! I crack me up.)
I am heartened by the fact that as someone like Michael Phelps has risen to stardom, his mother has gotten at least as much attention as he has. Debbie Phelps has become a star in her own right because of her role as Michael Phelps’ greatest supporter. Her fame, and the fame of Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin’s coaches, reminds everyone that each and everyone of the Olympians has a whole slew of people behind them, cheering them on.
I also am heartened by the story of Michael Phelps’ childhood ADHD channeled into something that he loves so much, and that has allowed him to become focused and successful. And his story is among the fluffier of the athletes at these Olympics. Who would have thought that amputee Natalie Du Toit would swim in the first women’s open water marathon. It’s perhaps a little lofty to expect such stories to become the stuff of medical therapy journals, but it should give people who experience difficulties inspiration and hope.
But back to that question: what’s so special about swimming faster than anyone else two times across a 50m pool, especially when the difference is a time epoch too fast for any of us to see?
It demonstrates our capacity to push human abilities in friendly competition. What if there was a way to push not just physical abilities in the sports world, but academically, musically, moralistically?
It gives us a reason for exciting gatherings of the global community where moments like the Croatian sailing team offering the Danish sailing team their own boat to sail for gold when the Danes’ ship had been wrecked. It’s tough to hear about stories like that and not think we share more than our nationalities can divide.
It is proof that there is a way to interact, to improve one another, without the threat of violence. Olympic politics have not been without strain, but it’s arguable that when comparing world politics to Olympic politics over the last century…it’s not hard to see which has been more popular and more successful.
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