The best part of the Olympics, for me, has been watching my daughters don goggles and race each other to the other end of the pool and back. They try to mimic Michael Phelp’s powerful turn — which sure beats sedentary staring at a computer screen.
Each Olympics brings some form of inspiration. Unforgettable moments get etched into our minds.
The purpose of the Games is highly noble: An amateur (originally) athletics competition in a global context to showcase excellence and to build international goodwill.
But like in all aspects of life, the human tendencies toward sin attend. Cheating by athletes (doping); cheating by national teams (underage gymnasts); and cheating by judges (scores that just don’t jive).
As a volunteer during 1996 Atlanta Games, I enjoyed seeing the massive event up close for the first and only time. My meager contributions were to edit the Religious Services Guide, assist national and international media doing stories on religious aspects of the Games, and write some stories from inside the Olympic Village for use by a variety of publications.
My work was based in the Olympic Village’s Religious Life Center — which was the Baptist Student Center at Georgia Tech where I had previously been campus minister.
It was a busy place with worship services and other programs offered by a volunteer staff of interfaith chaplains.
The evenings were generally a quieter time when athletes would drop by after a tense and grueling day of competition on the big stage. A young woman competing in ribbon dancing for Canada was one I remember in particular.
From her I learned much about the sacrifice required to excel at the Olympic level. She had lived with a demanding coach for years and forgone many common activities of childhood and youth.
She also had a pretty good idea of how she would rank in the end. In subjective sports such as hers, she said, the politics of judging were obvious.
After my experience in Atlanta, I still enjoy the Olympics but have a less-romanticized view of the Games. In the Olympics — as in other arenas of life — the truth is that trying to be the best performer can often bring out the worse behavior.
There is a difference between the desire to do one’s very best and the willingness to win at any cost.