The Olympic Games are here again. There’s something about those Olympics, which only come around every four years, that sometimes, or maybe you can even use the qualifier of usually, turns what’s supposed to just be a two week world sporting event/competition into something truly magical.
The World Cup of soccer happens every four years and the competition is usually great, but there’s nothing about it that could be described as magical. The Super Bowl, The World Series, The Stanley Cup playoffs and The NBA Finals all produce great competitions and memorable sporting achievements but, even though the Super Bowl more than all of the others hypes itself as something really special, there is still nothing magical about them compared to the Olympics.
The first part of the notion that there is something magical regarding the Olympics comes from the reputation of the Olympics themselves. There is an idea out there that the Games are something along the lines of a spiritual happening that is the greatest event on earth and such a special place that it is worth going through all of the training and sacrifice you have to go through just to get there.
Then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The competitors and the spectators think it’s going to be something really special… and it turns out to be just that.
Another thing that makes the Olympic Games so special is the nature of it being a gathering of the very BEST of the world’s athletes in each and every sport that is represented. That’s in the entire WORLD. The world’s FASTEST man and woman in the entire entire world. The best of each of the track and field events are there. Those who jump higher, throw farther, run the fastest The strongest weightlifter. The fastest swimmer. For that matter, the fastest distance swimmer, middle distance swimmer (and of all of the types of strokes).
The most skilled of gymnasts. The best divers. The best boxers and wrestlers. The best bike riders (the Tour de France winner was a competitor in Rio). The best The best tennis players (Djokovic, Nadal, Andy Murray and Serena Williams all competed) and now even the best golfers show up now that it is an Olympic sport (at least MOST of the best show up).
And there are the team sports. The best volleyball players (outdoors and indoors) are put together on teams. The best soccer teams. The best water polo players. The best field hockey teams. The best basketball players. The best rowers. The best players and the best teams in all of the WORLD show up for the Olympics.
Even what many people would describe as the fringiest of fringe sports send their best world participants to the Olympics. Archery, table tennis, horseback riding, skeet shooting, synchronized swimming, whitewater rafting, even the hip, new types of sports like BMX bike riding send the very best of their best to compete at the Olympics.
And so you have a worldwide gathering that has an aura of greatness to begin with that begins with an Opening Ceremonies that is so picturesque and magnificent as a spectacle that it all but guarantees that the Olympic mystique will continue on no matter how good the athletic competition turns out to be. The athletes marching in the Opening Ceremonies (some will be great and win medals and others are there for the excitement for they know they are over-matched by others who are better than them) begin the magic with the procession of athletes in costumes and colors with fireworks and people enjoying the moment that provides for some the highlight of the entire two weeks… the Olympic Games pageantry.
And they stage these Olympic Games in some of the great, exotic cities of the world. The last five have been in Rio de Janeiro, Argentina; London, England; Beijing, China; Athens, Greece and Sydney, Australia. Things like the Olympics seem more exciting and mystical in great cities of the world as opposed to if they staged one in somewhere like Podunk, Iowa.
But the object of the Games is the competition between the athletes. People want to see the best competing against the best. In all of the sports. In any of these Olympic sports. There’s something about seeing a race to determine the world’s fastest human on earth. There’s something about seeing ALL of these best athletes in the world competing at the highest level at their sports, especially when they are competing in THE Olympics.
You could care less about seeing the world’s best judo wrestlers or equestrian riders in some of their yearly competitions, but put them in the Olympics and people will want to see them because they feel like the Olympics are important enough to command their attention. That is the key element. People want to see stuff BECAUSE it is the Olympics.
Spectators get to see the best athletes, in the prime of their lives, putting together the best competitions a sports fan will ever likely see. People winning races by one inch, or one one hundredth of a second.
And there is that rooting interest. People want to see people from THEIR home country do well. People see a competitor from their country and find something about them that they really like and then vicariously live through that person’s efforts. The man or women they see competing on the track, in the pool, or on the balance beam could be thought of as a substitute for that fan’s son or daughter, boyfriend or girlfriend, father or mother, and when you latch onto someone who you really like and then when that person wins something, the triumph can be exhilarating for that fan.
The Olympics are great because they represent all that is good in sports. People compete against each other at the highest level, but once the event ends (and someone loses), they congratulate their opponent with some of the best examples of sportsmanship in sports.
The best events you will ever see in sports are when two (or more) opponents, or two teams, play each other, and both sides are playing at the highest of high levels, and the winner is the person or team that wins because THEY play well, not because their opponent played poorly. The greatness of the opponent brings out the greatness of their competitor. And the greatness of the competition comes across as greatness on the court or playing field. The kind that give you goose bumps. The kind of triumphs that give you those moments.
The Super Bowl, Stanley Cup and World Series produces some occasional really memorable games and moments once every few years. But the Olympics produce greatness. All the time. And of the highest order. Simone Biles. Usain Bolt. Michael Phelps. It really doesn’t get any better than that.