Ages before some egghead coined the word “globalization” its core beliefs were being played out in a sports challenge dating back to the dawn of civilization — and now dazzling the world from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
The Olympics are the greatest sports spectacle on earth because they command the values we have struggled unsuccessfully with throughout our tempestuous history, including mutual respect, decent regard, and fair play. The games demand we practice what we preach, and remind us that the human spirit is unconquerable and excels when shared through physical contact.
All is well, so long as we have the Olympics. They satisfy our primal need to receive praise and prizes for doing our best. They offer a thrilling trip to the outback of human endurance and enterprise. They are proof that people and nations can ditch their differences and feel good about self and others.
The first contest took place in Olympia, Greece, in 776 BC, but the games dwindled until a French baron revived them in 1896 as the sports equivalent to a peace movement. He reignited the love affair, offering 42 events in nine sports, and attracting 245 athletes from America, Great Britain, and 11 other countries.
In Rio some 10,500 athletes from 206 countries — including far-flung Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and Kiribati — are competing in 306 events, as billions of global spectators tune in rapturously.
Olympic athletes are heroes even if they don’t win a medal because they stretch our limits into the stratosphere — like our best mental efforts never could.
It is why gymnasts swirling on beams like ribbons, skiers shooting downhill like missiles, and high-jumpers soaring skyward like eagles excite us more than rocket scientists and why we want Michael Phelps — not Stephen Hawking — on our box of cereal.
Humans are competition junkies who live — even die — to conquer challenges, and their adreno-rush is the juice separating the good from the greatest, whether in a conference room, on the street, or in a world-class sports arena.
Nowhere is the summons to guts and glory better exemplified than at the Olympics.
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