Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Olympic Experience

I anxiously counted down to the start of the 2012 London Olympics.  Not only do I love the Olympics, but the Summer Olympics are by far my favorite and this time they were located in a city I would LOVE to visit someday.  I enjoyed watching every minute of it.

I appreciate the two and a half weeks of the Olympics.  Not only is history made, but it is a time of 'peace'.  It is a distraction, perhaps, from life around us.  For just two weeks we can push aside politics and wars in foreign lands and just cheer for the home team.  At this time, we Americans are all cheering for the same team.  We're united as a country in our desire to see our athletes succeed.  We hope they can be the fastest runners, highest jumpers, and best paddlers or shooters in the world.  We secretly hope the crying Russian girl stumbles or the Chinese get slightly out of sync on a dive.  We cheer together for weird sports we've rarely even seen, (trampoline?!) and shout like a coach at the TV when our Americans 'take your mark' on the track.  Not only are we united as a country, we are watching individuals who spend the rest of the year competing against each other, now come together and work as a team.  They depend on each other and work together for the win.  Athletes of different sports are attending their fellow Americans' competitions just to be heard as an American crowd.  Even better, the big picture is a huge competition of people from all around the world who on any other day, might be enemies.  But these two weeks they cheer and hug and pick each other up when one falls down.  They shake hands and congratulate the winner and forget about their differences, even if it's just temporary.

These Olympics have already made history.  I watched the opening ceremonies wondering what drama lay ahead.  Would judges cheat or someone test positive for drugs?  We watched amazing feats such as a man with no legs run a race, history made in women's gymnastics (first African American All-Around gold medalist as well as the first American to win gold in both All-around and team), badminton players disqualified for trying NOT to win, and a legend of a swimmer earn his 22nd Olympic medal to make a statement in Olympic history that may never be broken.  These athletes from around the world include ages 15 to 71.  There are countries I've never heard of being represented.  Countries are being represented by anywhere from 2 athletes, to over 500.  New world records are being set all over the place. 

While the spirit of the competition and the truly amazing ability of these athletes are what draw us to watch, it's the personal stories that steal our heart.  We hear the stories of triumph and failure.  Whether an athlete is overcoming an injury, mishap at a former Olympics, positive drug test, or a barely missed qualification in the past, they celebrate their true achievement of being an Olympian, and just hope for the chance to stand on the medal stand.  Just being there, for a chance to represent their country and compete in the sport they love is a dream come true.

I spent far too much time over the past two weeks watching TV.  I laughed, I cried.  I cheered for the Americans, and when they weren't competing, I cheered for someone else who looked like they deserve the win.  I learned the rules of water polo and feel an odd desire to try white-water kayaking.  I ached, usually in vain, for more coverage of the equestrian events.  I averted my eyes during weightlifting, held my breath during gymnastics, fell asleep during rowing, and paid my bills during some ridiculously long tennis matches.  My kids sat with me to cheer for the US and watch what can happen when you are truly passionate about something and work hard, sacrifice everything, and strive to make your dreams come true.

We will wait another 2 years before the world comes together like this again, and 4 years before another summer games.  Many athletes are already dreaming and training for the next Olympics.  They spend their lives in a strict training regimen of practice, exercise, and diet.  Some are already dreaming of redemption for something gone wrong at these 2012 games.  I admire their dedication, wish them luck in their training, and anxiously await the next time we get to cheer for them as they chase their dreams.