Tuesday, July 31, 2012
The Human Spirit of the Olympic Games
As I sat transfixed to the television all night, I began wondering what it was that made me cheer and cry with every move of the Team USA swimmers. The fact is, there are so many beautifully perfect and imperfect human elements they put on display day in and day out. We worship and idolize their world records, their training regiments (flipping monster tires anyone?), their ridiculous diets, their Twitter accounts, their next magazine cover and yes – even their own language (… JEAH!) But the truth is, their most admirable qualities are those a little less Hollywood – those qualities that make them just like you and me.
There’s Missy Franklin – the hyper, overzealous teenager that’s deep down in every one of us. Her effervescent smile and personality that bubbles like a shaken bottle of champagne is something that we each strive to attain. There’s Ryan Lochte – the charismatic, unconventional skateboard-riding, grill-wearing Playboy whose relaxed demeanor and unrefined approach to life make it okay and even downright AWESOME to stand out in a crowd.
There are so many qualities to admire and replicate of Team USA: The silent, yet fierce, leadership of Rebecca Soni and Elizabeth Beisel. The ultimate comeback story of redemption and ultimate dedication in Brendan Hansen, Dana Vollmer and Jessica Hardy. The hopeless romantic spirit and love of Matt Grevers blowing a kiss into the stands. The flooding relief of accomplishment Caitlin Leverenz after capturing her first medal. The quiet redemption and fortitude of the seemingly consummate bridesmaids, Nick Thoman and Davis Tarwater. The veteran, foundational wisdom in Natalie Coughlin and Jason Lezak. The list is endless.
Finally – there’s the ultimate champion, the most powerful ambassador for the sport of swimming, the greatest Olympian of all time and newly noted HUMAN, Michael Phelps. Tonight, for the very first time, I felt Michael acknowledge that the edges of his Superman cape are indeed slowly unraveling – acknowledging AND even embracing one of life’s most difficult challenges – change. As he stood atop the podium for the 4 x 200 Free Relay, I saw the glimmer of tears in his eyes for the first time EVER in 19 trips, as I believe he caught the first true glimpse of his swimming sunset. He seemed a changed man at the end of finals – smiling, joking, more jovial and relaxed than I’ve ever seen him. He is retiring, closing a chapter and he’s finally embracing it.
This is why I really do love the Olympic Games – as they exemplify the greatness that lies in each of us, as Nike poignantly portrayed in an advertisement tonight. At the end of the day, these supernatural , extraordinary athletes we call Olympians (not just those wearing red, white and blue and not just those competing in the sports with prime time coverage) are just human beings – moms, dads, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters. Their lives are shining examples of extraordinary qualities that live in each of us: hope, determination, strength and the imperfectly perfect human spirit… in this case – the Olympic spirit.