Well, the 2008 edition of the Olympic Summer Games is almost here. Well, technically it’s already here since the soccer/football tournament has already begun. Even so, I’m settling in for another 16 days of athletic enjoyment.
I’ve been a fan of the Olympics ever since I was old enough to understand, more or less, what they were. 1968 saw the beginning of my embracing this laudable, if sometimes flawed, attempt to bring the world together for some competition that doesn’t involve munitions targeted at one another. As I was researching a piece I was writing for HubPages (Fixing…The Olympics), I came across a very interesting speech (full text) made by former Olympian Tricia Smith that I want to excerpt:
I was first at the Olympics having heard the famous quote of the Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the architect of the modern Olympics. He said:
The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
Nice words, but I can tell you when I first heard that I remember thinking, Not to win but to take part? I don’t think so…I didn’t know any athletes who were at the Olympics just to take part.
We were all there to win.
But as I have thought about this idea of being a work in progress, the journey, the process, I thought again about what Baron de Coubertin said, “The most important thing is not to win but to take part… “The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.” The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
I think that we, as athletes, got it wrong. We understood “to take part” as meaning to just to show up.
In retrospect, what I think “to take part” really means is be a fully engaged participant. Because that is what we were, fully engaged, committed to excellence, committed to doing all we could to be our best.
It’s really inspiring when someone comes to the realization of what the Olympic Movement is really about…what life is really all about. Perhaps a more common way of putting it is: “It’s not the destination, but the journey that is most important.”
It is that celebration that I embraced long ago about the Games. Sure, the historical and religious aspects drew me in as well, but it was the higher ideals that stuck with me. I didn’t have to have them explained to me; I just knew. The concept of the Olympics, especially in a world that often seems poised on a hair-trigger, gives us a stable referent of the hope we all have that we can be better than we usually are—not just on a personal level, but national, regional, and global as well. For 16 days every four years, we see that could be in our future if only we were willing to put forth the effort.
That’s not to say that I don’t really enjoy the sports. Of course I’m going to dose heavily on women’s basketball…that pretty much goes without saying. But how I would be cheating myself if that’s all I focused on. I’ll be taking specially delight in watching sports that I don’t normally get to see at this level: field hockey, badminton, team handball, eventing, etc.; as well as the more traditional swimming, gymnastics, athletics (track and field) and the rest.
I’ve said for years that a lot of people go to church on the sabbath, but to me, the Olympics are my church. In my adult life I have only had to short-change the experience only once due to work or other commitments. Since I have the freedom again during this olympiad, I’m going to take as much advantage of it as I can (thank you, NBC, for that).