The Olympics and I have a long history. In high school our sports teams were called the Olympians, which by virtue of my attending the school, made me an official Olympian. No running, jumping, sweating required. If you went to Leuzinger High School you could honestly claim that you had been an Olympian. If nothing else, it was a great conversation starter.
The year I got married, my father-in-law attended the Olympics in Munich while my husband of 15 days and I watched the Opening Ceremonies in our sparsely furnished apartment in Portland, OR. For two weeks we I took turns adjusting the antenna on our tiny 12 inch black and white TV, cheering on the world’s greatest athletes from our living room floor. We didn’t care that we didn’t have a couch yet, or that the TV was so small the athletes looked more like ants than people. We were married and that was all that mattered. Our life in that moment was very good.
In 1984 RPM and I had the joy of attending the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Those Olympics came seven weeks after I had surgery. I had gone into the hospital in order to have a fibroid tumor removed in the hopes of having another child. Instead they discovered that I was experiencing my second ruptured tubal pregnancy in six years.
Getting healthy enough to watch the Olympic flag be raised, the torch lit, and team USA enter the stadium became my recovery goal. Something positive in the dark days of loss. Being in the LA Coliseum with thousands of cheering fans as people danced and sang and athletes entered in colorful uniforms provided a brief break from the reality of loss and day to day life. RPM attended a track event where Carl Lewis got one of his four gold medals. We watched a lot of the games with our kids on a 30 inch color TV. We had so much more than we‘d had during the first games we‘d watched together: two beautiful children, a lovely home, a church that loved us. But we’d also experienced loss and sorrow. The 1984 games we a mixed bag for me. Excitement at being a part of it all, live and in person. Sorrow that life hadn’t worked out the way I wanted.
Over the years I’ve lost some of my enthusiasm for the games. For one thing, you can now record about 18 hours a day of Olympics. There are pre-game, wrap up , and preview shows as well as actual events. Sports are shown from every angle with replays and comments on everything from what the athlete ate that day to what songs are on their iPods. For me it’s become a bit much.
The other thing that has kind of turned me off on the Olympics is the expectations placed on the athletes. Certain people are selected to be highlighted because of their potential to win. The higher the potential, the more times we will hear and see their face. No pressure, Team USA. The happiness of your fellow Americans depends on how you do, but really, no pressure.
I only watched a little of the Opening Ceremonies for the Sochi games, but I did watch the part where the athletes entered the arena. As I did it hit me that 80 percent (or more) of the athletes who participated in the winter games walked away without any kind of medal. In some cases they were crushed by their failure to make the podium. But for many of them they really didn’t care. They knew walking in that they didn’t stand a chance of leaving with a medal. So instead of kicking themselves and claming they were no good, they set their own realistic goals.
Some of them, like the lone athlete from Nepal, were content just making it to the games. Others just wanted a PR (personal record). Some wanted to be in the top ten. Some saw these games as a warm up for the next Winter Olympics. Different people. Different levels. Different goals.
I know a lot of people, myself included, who have at times, set unrealistic goals for themselves. People who think that if they just try hard enough they can do it all. That life will work out the way we planned. But we can’t. We live in a broken and fallen world. A world where bad things happen to good people. A place where it’s not always possible to win.
There will come a day when every tribe, tongue and nation will gather for a celebration even greater than the Olympics. There will be gold, not on medals but on the streets. There will be victory, not over another country or athlete, but over sin. Where life will forever be great and happy and perfect.
Until that time I’ll just have to keep pressing on towards the prize and settle for having been an “Olympian” in high school.