The Spirit of Sport

Growing up, I loved watching the Olympics. I waited for the games. Back then, summer and winter were still held during the same year, so it was a four year wait between those wonderful sporting feats.

Like any little girl, I dreamed of being a gymnast and a figure skater. And I did compete in gymnastics, but I was never going to be at the elite level. I loved watching track and skiing. One of my favorite Olympians was Dan Jansen, an awesome speed skater. I loved Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamaguchi. Of course, there was Flo-Jo and Jackie Joyner Kersee. Dan O’Brien. So many awesome human beings who did awesome things.

I think one reason I loved the Olympics so much was because they were a sense of national pride. It didn’t matter if you were black, white, brown. It didn’t matter if you were a male or a female. It didn’t matter which part of the country you grew up in. If you were an American, competing at the games for America, the whole country cheered for you.

The competition of the Olympics was pure. At least it was supposed to be. Naturally, there were athletes from certain countries who did try to cheat with drugs. But when the Olympics were strictly amateur athletes, before professionals were allowed to compete, the games were truly a celebration of the human spirit.

As I’ve gotten older, many things have changed in regard to the Olympics. One of the biggest changes was alternating summer and winter every two years. That took some adjustment on my part. So did the inclusion of professional hockey and basketball players. For me, that kind of tainted the results of those sports that allowed the pros.

The pageantry of the opening ceremonies; the lighting of the Olympic flame; the coming together of athletes from all around the world. Those are the images I remember from growing up. And now, with the internet, you can watch almost constant feeds from wherever the Olympics are happening. When I was a kid, it was fun waiting for the nightly broadcast.

Today, the Olympics are becoming more and more like any other professional sport. The athletes themselves no longer compete for the glory of their country. They compete for medals, but also for endorsements. They compete for air time. They compete for money. Some athletes choose to use their status for their own politic rants.

My enthusiasm for the games has steadily declined in recent years. I’m disappointed in so many of our athletes, who look at this competition as nothing more than another win. Those athletes who disrespect our flag should not even be in the games.

Too many of the Olympic athletes are becoming too similar to the multi-millionaire professional players in football, basketball, even baseball. These people make their living playing children’s games and complain about how hard their lives are.

I’m tired of seeing athletes take their gifts for granted. I want to cheer for them again. I want to be proud and tear up as they show medal ceremonies. But I’m afraid by the time another cycle or two happen, my cynicism will have won out and I won’t even watch them any more.

And to be fair, there are still athletes who embody the Olympic ideals: Shaun White, the Shibutani siblings, and Gabby Douglas are just a few. Those people seem to embrace their role as Olympic competitor, not just for themselves but for their country. In this angry world, I’d love to see more of the athletes revert back to that simpler time I remember from my childhood. I want to fee the pure spirit of sport once again.

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