I have another confession to make. Last time, it was about my shoes. This time, it’s about sports.
My confession is this: I’m not a fan. The idea of sport, the philosophy, the practice of it — these are the things I can get behind (mostly the philosophy, since it can be done sitting down).
But when it comes to watching sports, I’ll pass. It doesn’t interest me, and that includes the Olympics. Summer or winter, doesn’t matter. I watch the highlights, keep an eye on the medal count, feel a measure of national pride when a Canadian raises his or her arms in victory, but as for plugging events into my Google Calendar so I don’t miss anything — it ain’t me, babe.
When talking about the Olympics, I often hear columnists and pundits say something like: When you boil the Games down, at its core is pure sport.
I agree. Ultimately, it’s a sporting competition, pitting exclusive groups of humans with singular abilities against other, freakishly talented, groups of humans.
What that sentiment acknowledges — while glossing over its subtext — is the fact the Olympic Games are about more than pure sport.
They’re about patriotism and propaganda; diplomacy and chauvinism; manipulation and brinkmanship. There’s cheating and backroom deals and sabotage (as in the accusations by French newspaper L’Équipe the Russians and Americans have an arrangement to stymie Canadian figure skating medal hopes). The Olympic Games take pomp, circumstance and bombast to never-before-dreamed of levels.
But that’s not all, is it? The Games are about much more than that.
They are about human abilities refined to their highest form in the cauldron of competition. Human qualities like determination and passion that raise that ability beyond what anyone thought possible.
It’s about sacrifice. The athlete who sacrifices his or her body to reach unparalleled heights of performance. The parents who sacrifice their time, emotion and money to help that athlete achieve, who shelve their own dreams so their children can pursue theirs.
The sacrifice of a country, which sees collective success in individual triumph.
The Olympic Games is about that singular moment when the hopes and dreams of an entire nation match the hopes and dreams of an individual and somehow, in the alchemy of sport, are made flesh.
There is a kind of magic in that.
And this is what I — the non-sports fan — take away from it all. Because the Olympic Games is not just about the events themselves; it’s about the whole package: the triumph and the corruption, the sweet and the sour, the highlights and lowlights of what it means to be human.
That’s what makes the Olympics so wonderful — the Games celebrate humanity’s best qualities while harnessing some of our worst.
Because when all the gloss, all the trappings and the rhetoric, is stripped away, you are left with a lone athlete poised at the starting line, eyes fixed in the distance. The roar of the crowd outmatched by a hammering heartbeat. Limbs turned to jelly by adrenaline set to become steel when the light goes on.
That perfect moment when time stops and everything you’ve ever held to be true can change in an instant.
All the pep talks, heart-to-hearts and rallying cries gone — the pomp and circumstance left at the opening ceremonies — replaced with measured breathing and a mantra: This one’s for Canada.
And in many ways, for all of us.
Mark Gentili is the managing editor of Northern Life and Northernlife.ca.