Olympic inspiration: waiting for that unifying moment

| Christina Capecchi | August 2, 2016 | 2 Comments

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On a national scale, it was a rough July, marked by division: shootings, protests, funerals, conventions.

Whether you tuned into Trump and Clinton, clicked over to the late-night comics or braced for sharp Facebook exchanges, you likely felt a sense of separation, of people moving further apart, digging in their heels and drawing circles around their camps.

“At times, it seems like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together,” former President George W. Bush observed at a Dallas memorial service. “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

To reverse this impulse — to trust in others’ better intentions and recognize our own bad examples — is the ultimate act of mercy, the virtue we need so desperately this year.

I’m hoping August can provide what July failed to deliver: unity. And I’m banking on the Olympics to give us that lift through 17 days of drama and daring, with more than 10,000 athletes from 207 nations coming together in 306 events. It’s time to root for someone who doesn’t look or sound like you, to cheer on athletes because you like their story or their anxious mom, or because they’re young or old, because they’re shy or bold, because you can glimpse their spirit shining through.

The beauty of enduring Olympic moments is that they cannot be planned or predicted. They are unscripted. Part of the magic is watching them unfold before our eyes. We follow the athlete with the most hype, while an underdog sneaks up and stuns. A star is born, and we feel part of it because we have given witness to it.

History is replete with golden Olympic moments. They do not require athletic supremacy, though many contain it; they do require a triumph of human spirit. Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila ran a marathon barefoot in the 1960 Summer Games — and won. Hermann Maier, an Austrian skier, had a devastating crash in the downhill competition at the 1998 Nagano Games, then returned to the slopes days later to win two gold medals.

Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea had just recently taken up swimming and gained entrance into the 2000 Summer Games through a wildcard for athletes from developing countries. He lost the 100-meter freestyle qualifying race, but set a record for his home country, wowing fans with his memorable first swim in an Olympic-sized pool.

British sprinter Derek Redmond tore a hamstring during the 400-meter semi-finals in 1992 and struggled to rise to his feet. His father broke through security to join his son on the track, propping him up and helping him reach the finish line, which Derek crossed on his own.

Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux was expected to medal at the 1988 South Korea Olympics but noticed a competitor’s capsized boat amid dangerous winds and abandoned the race to rescue the two injured sailors. After handing them off to a crew, he returned to the race, still managing to beat out 11 other competitors and place 22nd out of 32. He was awarded an honorary medal for heroism.

Ultimately, epic Olympic moments reveal truth and beauty. They stir us to strive for something more.

“Sport, rightly understood, is an occupation of the whole man,” Pope Pius XII once said, “and while perfecting the body as an instrument of the mind, it also makes the mind itself a more refined instrument for the search and communication of truth and helps man to achieve that end to which all others must be subservient, the service and praise of his Creator.”

Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights and the editor of SisterStory.org.

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  • Charles C.

    We can hope and pray that this Olympic competition brings about the unity so devoutly wished for by the world. That unity faces serious obstacles for which I ask prayers.

    “The head of the Lebanese Olympic delegation was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee on Sunday after refusing to let the Israeli delegation board a bus the two teams were supposed to share.

    “During the hearing on the matter, the IOC committee warned Salim al-Haj Nakoula the head of the Lebanese delegation, that they would not accept any further instances like this.

    “A source from the Lebanese Olympic committee told Lebanese television station Al Mayadeen on Saturday that the refusal to allow the Israeli delegation to ascend the bus on Friday was a group decision of the Lebanese Olympic delegation.

    “A separate source also said that Lebanese athletes are “committed to the national position in refusing to be in the same place as the Israelis.” He added that Lebanon will remain part of the resistance against Israel.”

    If not in religion, can we at least find temporary tolerance in honest sport?

  • Charles C.

    For you statistics nerds, 208 countries competed in the Olympics this year (if you include the refugee team). Almost 42% of the countries took home at least one medal (87 countries).

    977 medals were awarded. Over half (499) went to the US, Great Britain, China, Russia, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, and Italy.

    And for those of you who are concerned about the “One Percent” in society, the top one percent (two countries) took home almost 20% of the medals. The top 5% (10 countries) won 53%, and the top 10% (21 countries) left with 71% of the medals.

    Isn’t inequality terrible? Maybe, in the interests of social justice, we should redistribute the “wealth,” so to speak.