The Olympic Games
There is simply no other event like it in the sporting world. No other event brings so much joy and life to the world. No other event can bring together humanity both socially and politically. The Olympic Games do something no other sporting event even comes close to achieving. It breaks the boundaries of completion to become one of the most important events in history. And the sport’s pretty good too.
If you turned back time to the beginning of the 20th century to when the modern Olympic games were just beginning to rediscover their lustre, and told Pierre du Coubertin – the founder of the International Olympic Committee - that countries would spend millions of pounds just to obtain the right to host an edition of the Olympiad, he would have thought you were insane. If you then went on to say that the last summer games in London cost the UK nine billion pounds to host, he might have fainted.
The Olympics have come a long way from when croquet, tug of war and polo were included in the programme. The idea of sports psychology, life or death analogies and athletes giving up family and friends to concentrate on training was as alien as the idea of pop stars performing at the closing ceremony. This was when dedicated ‘gentleman’ amateurs were the sole participants and the idea of ‘professional’ sportsmen taking part was considered a gross injustice.
Now, the Olympics are what every athlete that competes in one of the 47 participating sports dreams of taking part in. Whether they are cyclists, divers, canoeists or archers, the one thing they have in common is that they want to compete on the grandest stage of them all. For a select few however, the Olympic flame is not just a wonderful sight to behold, it is the forging fire that is used to ignite their global superstar status.
The legend of Usain Bolt was born in a bird’s nest. That iconic stadium witnessed Bolt break three world records in three races and cemented his place among Olympic immortality. Nadia Comaneci’s seven perfect 10s in Montreal achieved a feat that every expert thought was impossible. Michael Phelps’ incredible 18 gold medals in the pool over a nine year period made him the greatest Olympic medal winner in history.
Even mainstream sportsmen who have achieved great fame outside the games still see winning an Olympic gold as the final touch on glittering careers and sometimes feel incomplete without it. Rafael Nadal was reportedly in tears after being forced out of London 2012 through injury while Wayne Gretzky missed out on an Olympic medal due to the NHL’s ban in ice hockey.
As well as the superstars that the games can create, no other sporting spectacle unites a country together in the same way that the Olympics can. If a host nation truly embraces the spirit of the games, the results can warm the hearts of even the coldest scenic. Think of Cathy Freeman’s 400m title in Sydney or the British roar in London 2012. The noise in London was so loud at times that it physically disrupted the technology used to separate the photo finishes because the ground was shaking so much.
No other tournament can bring one nation together across such a long period. Whist the Fifa World Cup can bring a nation together in a similar way; it is generally reserved for that country’s side, not for the entire tournament.
Following on from a simply glorious event in London 2012 and an awe inspiring display from Beijing, the feel-good factor behind the Olympic movement is at an all-time high. Political problems are for the time being put on hold for that two week period while patriotic civilians have finally realised that this is a once in a lifetime experience to be cherished for the rest of their lives.
If nothing else, the Olympics are the perfect example of what sport can do for the good of humanity. Let’s hope that never fades.