After covering so many Olympics over the years, broadcaster Al Michaels was asked recently what stands out to him.
The U.S.’s 1980 hockey win against the juggernaut Soviet Union, he answered – and, in general, the whole idea of the entire world coming together over sports.
Many of those athletic endeavors, we might add, would never otherwise see the light of day – fencing, archery, badminton and the like.
We love that the less-glamorous sports get a day in the sun. That has to inspire hundreds of thousands around the world to take them up – and may give many people a pursuit, passion, and meaning in life they never otherwise would’ve had.
What a beautiful gift.
And where else are gymnasts – perhaps the world’s most versatile athletes, and humankind’s physical ideal – going to get the chance to make so many of us do flips over their talent?
But Michaels is right: The Olympics is the only thing that brings the entire world together.
“Don’t you wish the world could be like this all the time?” Michaels asked.
And it might be, if some leaders around the world understood the true beauty of the Olympics – which is not national pride so much as individual achievement.
Some countries get so caught up in the bragging rights – think communists here – that they try to become Athlete Factories. There are concerns about whether the training regimens there go beyond training to torture.
Then there are flat-out accusations of cheating – such as the badminton teams from South Korea, Indonesia and China that were disqualified last week after intentionally throwing matches to get weaker opponents later and easier paths to the gold medal.
That’s some stinking thinking there. That winning – for country, or for self – is more important than achieving.
As for the obsessive government-induced training, and perhaps cheating: National pride is one thing, but using young people as pawns for pride, well, that’s just despicable. It needs to stop.
But it never will, as long as world leaders see the state as sovereign, and individuals as tools to serve it.
Whether in team or individual sports, athletic achievements at bottom are individual achievements.
When we get to the point where all nations honor that ideal of the Olympic spirit, that will be a moment for Al Michaels, and the rest of us, to truly relish.