Winner Take All

The Closing Ceremonies have now ended, signifying the completion of the London 2012 Olympic games.

With that, a range of thoughts and emotions run through my head…

Things like: “Am I really that old where I recognize about 90% of the music and artists (dead and almost) they’re featuring?”, “Did Victoria Beckham just model her designer duds while the rest of the Spice Girls actually sang for their supper?”, “Should the guys who did the ‘McKayla is Not Impressed’ web sensation add one with her next to the Queen looking equally unimpressed during Opening Ceremony?”, “If I eat Chobani yogurt on a regular basis and use my Visa card more, will it make me feel better about myself after sitting on my ass for two weeks looking at the most chiseled humans on the planet?”, “When Oprah has the inevitable sit-down with Gabrielle Douglas, will there be a verbal smack-down somewhere in the interview for the ‘haters’ who were so vocal about her hair and mother’s financial situation?”, and “Did anyone else find themselves talking about the Beijing ceremonies because they were so bored with London’s?”

But in all seriousness, my main thought was how amazing and ridiculously stressful it must be to be an Olympian… especially an American one.

With the entire world watching, over 200 countries and 10,000 athletes came to London to compete for the privilege of being declared the best in their respective sporting events. Having already predetermined a number of bankable, marquee athletes to keep the cameras on, the daunting task for those competing against a Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps or Sanya Richards-Ross is how to stay motivated and not be intimidated by their star power.

We watched in awe as the men and women of the United States and beyond showed superhuman strength and endurance in some of the most grueling sporting events. We shared in their joys as they achieved their ultimate goal of being recognized as the greatest ambassadors for their respective homelands. We felt their pain when a lifetime of training for that moment are dashed in a matter of seconds. We witnessed historic achievements, personal triumphs and tragedies, and incredible sportsmanship that moved us to tears.

To be honest, this was the first Olympics that I’d been fully engrossed in since Atlanta hosted the games in 1996. That year was particularly special for me, as I had scored the honor of actually working in the Olympic Village. That Summer, I walked amongst the gladiators, so their stories and achievements felt almost personal. Ironically, this year’s games have been compared to that year because it was the last time Team USA had dominated events such as Women’s Gymnastics and Track and Field. For the first time in sixteen years, the memories of seven petite young women walking as one even when they weren’t on the national stage, and a bunch of good-nature guys who happen to run really fast when they’re not joking around and stock-piling fruit flashed through my head. Perhaps there’s always something about London that sparks a fire within me — although it sure as hell wasn’t either of the ceremonies.

It’s sometimes easy to forget what these athletes go through to get to these games. The sacrifices of time, money, and other opportunities they make for that one shot of making their countrymen proud and potentially earning millions in endorsements to compliment their newfound national recognition are unimaginable. Add the pressure of having the hopes of an entire population of people you aren’t related to resting on your shoulders, and you have an unbearable situation. One athlete had been told that she couldn’t run for the country her husband was from — which she now called home — and had her passport taken in a show of force to run for her native country. As we muse about Ryan Lochte’s grill and unsanitary pool habits, or the ungrateful scowls of people with Silver and Bronze medals, we rarely give thought to the men and women in lesser developed regions whose dream of a better life often fall flat when they come in fourth.  

While my admiration goes out to all the athletes who competed, I am especially proud of Team USA for coming out on top. Their dedication, selflessness, and inability to accept defeat provided the world and the younger generations not only valuable life lessons, but it embodied what we stand for as a country. My only lament is that during these two weeks where we should be focused on the unity and sportsmanship of our team and country, we get distracted and caught up in the diversity that accompanies an election year and subsequent campaign season.

And so, this closing ceremony saddened me not because it lacked any spectacle, but because it essentially sends us back to the harsh reality of what the country has become, as opposed to what it is perceived to be to the rest of the world.

To the world… we are winners. We are a team that is united and willing to take stands for each other in order for us all to collectively win.

But internally, we are a nation divided in class and beliefs who constantly judge and bicker and indulge our own personal interests and goals at the risk of others’ suffering and loss. For a brief moment, the world caught a glimpse of our weakness in the form of the “black eye” that was Ralph Lauren’s Team USA uniforms, which were manufactured in China. But it was quickly forgotten once our swimming team began their show.

The thought makes me long for another two weeks of watching our gladiators run, flip and swim to golden glory.

…Or at least another opportunity to see Annie Lennox give another legendary performance, and watch a stunt double for the Queen jump out of a helicopter with James Bond again.

Now those were winning moments to me!

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