Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Olympics: Hunger Games or Human Games?

Following the Olympics has been a emotional roller-coaster of a journey and has led to a lot of soul searching.
There have been some amazing moments - with Michel Phelps getting probably the most press - coming fourth in one event, missing gold by .05 seconds in another, winning the most ever Olympic medals along the way..
Watching the US athletes on the podium listening to the "Star Spangled Banner" invariably brought tears to the eyes.  Serena unleashing a powerful performance in the finals to win 6-0, 6-1 was jaw dropping.  The US flag was not there - blown away by a gust of wind at Wimbledon - bringing much needed humor at a solemn moment.
Image linked from

Along the journey something kept bothering me.  Seeing young teens competing in individual events carrying the hopes and expectations of their family, friends, schoolmates, their country on their young shoulders.  Watching a 15 year old Katie Ledecky blowing away a super strong field in the 800 meter freestyle and 17 year old Missy winning multiple events in swimming was a celebration of youth.  The tears of 17 year old Victoria Komova on losing the gold in the individual all around (she won the silver) showed the incredible pressure on these young shoulders.  The 16 year old Chinese sensation Ye Shiwen forced to defend herself against allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs because she has improved dramatically over the last year.  Then the image of a Canadian trampoliner going from shock to breaking out in smile when her Chinese competitor fell at the end of her routine realizing she had won the gold with that spill.  The latter reportedly declined to wear her bronze medal.  These young athletes are damned if they win and damned if they nearly win and damned if they don't win.  All this under the microscope of social media and 360 degree 24-7 fast news coverage.  These scenes reminded me eerily of the Hunger Games.  As we celebrate the champions, do we hear the stories of all the people who did not make it, who were proud to just compete, to try, to give it their all, their sacrifices, their heart breaks?  Are they learning the right lessons, is the Olympic movement working, is the Olympics spirit alive and well?

And then I reflect on the following images and my faith is restored:

  • Jordyn Weiber crying her heart out on missing out competing in the individual all-around event and then coming back to cheer her team mates on in the event she missed.
  • Margot Shumway in the women's double sculls learning a new sport so she could get to the Olympics and coming from behind to make it to the A Finals with her mother in the audience - fighting lung cancer - making it to London to watch her daughter between 2 rounds of chemo
  • Oscar Pistorius a double amputee who had an epic struggle to get accepted to the Olympics because folks thought the "blades" gave him an "unfair" advantage.  He was just happy to be able to compete.  His mother wrote in a letter for him to read as an adult, ""The real loser is never the person who crosses the finishing line last,'' she wrote. "The real loser is the person who sits on the side, the person who does not even try to compete.''
They don't need medals, they don't need their photos on cereal boxes.  But we need their stories to be told just as loudly and frequently and proudly as those of the medal winners.  Once we do that, the Olympics will truly be the Human Games instead of being the Hunger Games!

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