Monday, October 5, 2009

Tarnished Medals

This past Friday in Copenhagen, the International Olympic Committee voted and announced that the 2016 Summer Olympic Games would be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Earlier in the morning Chicago was eliminated from contention in the first round of voting. There were two reactions here in Cook County. On one hand there was the shock and disappointment of the thousands who had gathered in Daley Plaza downtown. The Chicago bid had been thought to be one of the two strongest bids and those gathered expected to at least be one of the final two candidate cities. But on the other there was a feeling of relief among those who had hoped that the Olympics would not come to Chicago. They were relieved that corruption and displacement of the marginalized would avoid our city.

Their concerns are well founded. The Olympic ideal is built on the concept that around sportsmanship and competition humanity may gather peacefully without the barriers of politics, nationalism, or racism. This ideal represents our highest hopes for ourselves. But too often as the world is gathered together for the Olympics we find not this ideal, but violence, corruption, and disregard for the marginalized of the host city. Most often, we find that our realities don’t live up to our ideals.

But that is the nature of our humanity. Rarely do we live up to our highest hopes for ourselves. And yet, time and again we rise out of our depravity reaching towards these ideals. This reflects who we are, saints & sinners, dust & yet arising. Despite our failings we are called to reach towards our ideals and hopes. We are called to strive for peace, for the elimination of racism, and for justice. We are called to strive even though we know we will stumble along the way.

For me, the one enduring Olympic image is not the ‘Miracle on Ice,' or Nadia Comaneci getting the first perfect 10 in Olympic history. Nor is it the image of the Atlanta Olympic bombings, the disaster in Munich, or the racism of Berlin. Rather, it is at the ’92 Barcelona games in the semifinal heat of the 400 meters. Derek Redmond, a sprinter from Great Britain got out to a fast start. But at 250 meters, he pulled his hamstring. Yet with no hope to medal or to advance he continued to hop and limp toward the finish line. His dad eventually came out of the stands and helped him to struggle across the finish line.

That image (excuse the cheesy music) resonates because it’s a true embodiment of our humanity. With our failings, with our inclinations towards corruption and our torn hamstrings, we continue to strive on towards our ideals of peace and justice. That is what the Olympic ideal is about. As modern Olympic founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin says;

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

So, here’s to you, Rio. Here’s to your engagement in the struggle and to the striving. May your striving bring us closer to our ideals, closer to peace and justice. May you fight well.


Midrashional Thinker said...

I was pleased to see this post, I think its very thoughtful and puts a "global" social lens on what tends to be myopically a municipal tailgate party.

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