I’ve always been a fan of the Olympics. Watching the world’s best athletes push the limits of human achievement in sports is thrilling. Throughout my own life I have tested myself physically. As a teen I participated in the local swim team and tried my hand at the usual high school sports. In my thirties I was a bit of a tri-athlete. I’ve never been a great athlete, but I like to push myself. Even now in my early seventies I exercise almost daily, mostly to stay in shape for skiing.
In addition to watching in wonder at the abilities of the athletes, I have always liked the idea of the countries of the world coming together in friendly competition. Of course, there have been times when others have gotten in the way of this. To my knowledge, interruptions (and tragedies) have never been the result of the inability of the athletes to get along with one another.
I read with some humor about Jesse Owens, in borrowed shoes and mis-matched socks, symbolically thumbing his nose at Hitler and racial inequality in the 1936 competitions in Berlin. It was a shame that the 1916, 1940, and 1944 games were canceled due to World Wars I and II. The tragedies of Munich in 1976 and Atlanta in 1996 were especially awful. The Tokyo events were canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even that, I think, had as much to do with politics as the disease. Rarely have the athletes themselves protested in any way more than symbolically. The most well-known was the Black Power salutes in Mexico City in 1968. I know there are other, less publicized protests. Athletes from persecuted minorities have made statements that typically have been ignored by all but their own governments. It’s such a big stage, however, that some have been denied the chance to compete because of their protests. The Chinese government issued an edict that any protests this year would be met with more than a slap on the wrist or disbarment!
To me, the games should simply be those contests that evince the elements of the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius—Faster, Higher, Stronger! Because I love skiing, the Winter Olympics have always been my favorite examples of this. I am amazed at the downhill skiers and their ability to just stay upright at almost 90 miles per hour! Ski jumping and now the Big Air competitions are amazing. When I was younger, I sometimes was able to “get air” off some bumps, but never twenty or thirty or more feet in the air…or doing multiple spins and somersaults. I know, too, the strength it takes to make the turns in slalom or moguls or holding on when you hit the ground at high speed. I’ve also had some rather colorful bruises when I couldn’t hold on, or a ski fell off, and presented my fellow skiers with a “yard sale” (a crash that sends skis and poles, and sometimes hats and gloves, flying everywhere). A few years ago a skier cut me off and I hit the snow hard, separating my left shoulder. Not good.
We’ve been watching some of this year’s events. Our schedules have had us watching a good bit of snowboarding. I’m not a rider and never will be. My knees couldn’t take it. On the slopes or on TV, they’re fun to watch. I’ve spent some time just watching at the terrain park in Keystone. I can also see most of it as I pass over on one of the lifts. Those kids are incredible!
The other night we were watching the Women’s Slope Style Snowboarding competition. Their feats of daring are absolutely jaw-dropping. They get three tries to make the medal stand and each one gave it everything she had to make it. A few of them “crashed and burned.” The finals were inspiring in several ways. We were cheering for the riders from the U.S., of course, but I was taken by the way the young women cheered and encouraged one another. I’ve seen that camaraderie among snowboarders on the mountain. They’re a community all to themselves, it seems. Those who compete at the international level and end up at the Olympics have known one another for years, and some of them are in their early teens!
The finals came down to the very last run. Zoi Sadowski Synott of New Zealand gave the run of her life to take the Gold medal, bumping Julia Marino of the U.S. into Silver and Australian Tess Coady to Bronze. When Synott finished her run, Marino and Coady rushed to her, hugging her and taking her to the snow. When they had regained their feet, the nine other finalists joined in a “group hug,” jumping up and down and reveling in their shared achievements.
This was a perfect example of why I love the idea of the Olympics. This is what the games are supposed to be—friendly competition and relishing human achievement. It’s also why the International Olympic Committee changed the motto in 2021, adding Communiter to Citius, Altius, Fortius. Faster, Higher, Stronger—Together. I approve.