“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan (double Olympic champion for basketball, US team)
“So I’ve never felt that I was more special or something because I didn’t have legs. What makes me special is that I run fast.” Marlou Van Rhijn, Netherlands (London 2012 Gold medalist)
Looking through the history of the Olympics, which began in ancient Olympia, Southern Greece (Peloponnese) as a cult to Zeus eventually morphing around 776 BC as inter-state athletic games, is today for most modern athletes the “field of dreams.” Those relatively unknown, and often those well-known Olympics winners went on to win glory or simply to “re-live” the experience (the ancients crowned winners with the olive wreath of the sacred olive groves which grew in Olympia called “kotinos”κότινος, while in the modern Olympics we have more formalized international committees and subcommittees crowning winners with bronze, silver, and gold medals). Historically given other types of rewards (e.g. money) by their state or country upon return, and we may say the athlete becomes an “ambassador” for their country. More importantly then, as it still is now, the “eternal fame” (“αιώνια δόξα”) for the athlete — the ancient Olympiad winners had their names written in a catalog kept in the holy shrine in Olympia…thus why we still know of and admire those persons today!
Every four years we are reminded of the beauty, ethos, sportsmanship, and peace-keeping spirit of the Olympic Games. Even in the most turbulent of times, there was a calling for the Olympic Truce and if members did not keep their part they would be expelled from the games. Prerequisites for participation in the Olympics, especially in the archaic and classical period, were to be a Greek, male (man or boy) and to honor the twelve gods of Olympus. To be a “free citizen”, meant not having committed murder and not having violated the institution of the Sacred Truce — the suspension of hostilities from before, during, and after the Games. The Sacred Truce took place during the period that the ancient Greek cities participated in the Olympics, so that the conduct of the Olympics and the transportation of the spectators of the Games were achieved without problems.
The Rio 2016 Olympic event was the XXXI (or 31st) Olympiad. The opening and closing ceremonies combine the essence of ancient to modern games, while giving us a “taste” of the country’s best promoted culture. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stated on the day of the Ceremony of the Ignition of the Olympic Flame in preparation of the Rio Olympiad (21 April, 2016):
“From this moment on the Olympic flame will spread the Olympic Values of tolerance, solidarity and peace to all Brazilians and indeed to all people in the world. The Olympic Values are eternal values — they were as relevant in ancient times as they are today. Like no other human activity, sport is about bringing people together in the spirit of friendship and respect. Sport always builds bridges, it never erects walls. In a world shaken by crisis, the message that our shared humanity is greater than the forces that divide us, is more relevant than ever before…” (para. 4) “The Olympic Games give us all hope that a better world is possible. Together, we can change the world” (para. 7).
The High Priestess, Greek actress Katerina Lehou on the Ceremony of the Ignition of the Olympic Flame offered a mock prayer for the city of Rio appealing to Apollo, the mythological Sun god, to send his rays to light the Olympic Flame for the city of Rio: “..and you Zeus, give peace to all nations of the earth…”
Notably in a recent talk by Dr. Kleanthi (Cleo) Pateraki titled: “The role of ancient Olympia in a period of crisis for Greece, Europe and the world” at the Europe in Discourse: Identity, Diversity, Borders conference hosted by Hellenic American University, 23-25 September, 2016, pointed out to her audience that ancient Olympia could offer mankind high ideals and firm human (Olympic) values, such as freedom, democracy, the concepts of “fair play”, of the harmonious balance between body and mind, on which it could build, after the crisis, the new culture of Greece, Europe and the world. The youth of Greece, Europe and the world should be nurtured with Olympic values. In the Rio Olympics (5th-21st August 2016) as Dr. Pateraki discussed, we viewed one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship by the two track runners Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’ Agostino. Both athletes were praised for their “Olympic spirit” and were recognized for ‘fair play’ subsequently awarded the Fair Play Award by the International Fair Play Committee with the support of the International Olympics Committee stating (2016, August 20):
At their core, the games are about the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect. They are about FAIR PLAY and HUMAN SPIRIT.
The Paralympics that end after the regular Olympic games in September (see Paralympics Rio) for the last 15 years have provided us some of the most memorable successes of all athletic careers — athletes who may be born or through illness or accident have a disability or through illness or an accident, overcome personal barriers channeling their energy into goals making it in this worldwide event! The trailer called “We’re the Superhumans” says it all…
Barriers can be what we defined as physical, mental, or what society defines as “being different” yet athletes like swimmer Michael Phelps go on to break country, worldwide, and even historical records. Michael, started swimming at the age of 7 in order to best channel his excess energy as two years later was diagnosed with Attention Deficit & Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). His mom would always advocate for her son, countering teachers with “what are you doing to help him?” when she was told “he can’t do this.” Advocating for one’s rights and one’s health, are indeed a very important part of advancing health literacy. Working with a team of people is not only necessary to create or foster Olympic athletes but help us as individuals become better and more successful adults.
Communities who host Olympic games need to be mindful of sustainability issues… let not this just be a ‘one-time deal’. When the Olympics in Athens 2004 happened, people came from all over the world to volunteer and share in the cultural heritage of the games. However, as photos taken 10 years later in 2014 proclaim, venues have become abandoned and these ‘new ruins’ as one paper’s headlines indicate have become a £7billion white elephant. This is harmful to a declining environment, shows the continued economic and community crisis, and depletes people’s spirit and hopes for a country’s future.The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, stated last summer that perhaps one way for Greece to pay its debts and get over the ‘crisis’ would be for the country permanently hosts the games…one interesting idea, but that likely means the loss of the olympic spirit in the modern sense which needs to be embedded within the global context since each country shares its own values of culture and sportsmanship using their social and marketing techniques and may improve the “way things are done.” This may include adding fresh ideas and improving the quality of delivery. Perhaps then, Greece should host every 12 or 20 years?
I recently came across some “Olympics ideas” on Pinterest of how to hold an Olympics event in your own community (senior center, schools, etc.) with creative ideas to improve physical activity and foster team play. Other ideas on how residents, staff and visitors came together to create their own team experience and supporting countries as an “in-house Olympics” was also a positive idea expressed in the 2012 Nursing and Residential Care Journal to experience the 2012 UK Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. The emphasis on seniors contributes to increasing physical activity efforts in the context of the Olympics and indeed a great way to contribute to health literacy.
In closing, we also need not forget issues of doping both for athletes’ long-term health and for the game outcomes as this is of particular concern for the purpose of the Olympics, as younger people seek good role models.
Keep positive, as philosopher Epicurus from the 4th century BC said: “You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity” (Source: www.greeka.com ) Beyond a country’s attained “medals” let us be mindful of the athletes’ personal struggles, the communities involved in making a worldwide spectator event, and more importantly the spirit of the Olympic Games. As the official lyrics of the Athens 2004 Olympics proclaim, Pass the Flame, Unite the World….see you in Tokyo, Japan in 2020!