As long as I can remember, which is quite awhile now, I have watched the Olympic Games with the devotion seen only from a wet nosed mutt chewing on a new shoe waiting for his master’s return.
I watched the Olympics when the summer and winter games were held in the same year and I had to contain my enthusiasm for another four years. I watched when the athletes were amateurs, or at least much closer to amateur status. I watched when it was the USA against the Iron Curtain of Communism. I watched when Mark Spitz took seven gold metals, Nadia Comaneci put up a perfect 10, Eddy The Eagle flew, Fosbury flopped and there was a Miracle on Ice. I watched as Bruce Jenner and Mary Lou Retton joined the elite few on the Wheaties box. And I watched when nothing spectacular happened.
This year, I watched as Phelps succeeded Spitz’ with eight gold metals. There have been a number of other great athletic accomplishments and there is still more to come. But none of this is why I watch.
There was a moment, just a little moment, when swimmer Dara Torres stalled the start of a qualifying 50 meter heat in order for a competitor to change her suit and make it to the starting block on time. Dara performed a completely selfless act for another and in that moment exemplified all that has ever been good about the Olympics and why I watch. In that moment there were no politics, no racial, ethnic or cultural boundaries. There were only friends around the pool. On the field, the slopes, the track, ice rink or in the pool athletes are fierce competitors; outside of that, the great ones are just people looking out for one another and ensuring everyone has the opportunity they deserve.
The men and women who are fortunate enough to participate in the Olympic Games represent far more than their country. Every once in awhile they represent what is best in the human race and allow us all to share the touch of a helping hand, a fist bump between competitors or a pin exchange that will never see the podium and still stand taller than any metal winner ever will.
I’ve watched the Olympics forever and as long as competitors from around the world extend their hand out to one another I will continue to believe the endless capacity of the human soul… And watch the Olympic Games.