Participants in the Summer Olympics in London this past week have set a new world record. Never before in our planet’s history have so many representatives of different nations come together in one place for a common program. They came from an astonishing 204 nations to take part! And for the first time in Olympic history, each of the nations sent female as well as male athletes.
How would London welcome such a special gathering? In its imaginative and often whimsical opening ceremony on August 27 British filmmaker Danny Boyle took us through a kaleidoscopic historical tour of the British Isles that featured first a quiet pastoral scene with sheep herded by a shepherd and a busy sheep dog. Then came a scene from the time of the industrial revolution that featured factory workers, fired-up foundries casting metal rings, and smokestacks belching smoke. Other vignettes expressed appreciation for women in the suffragette movement, trade union members, Afro-Caribbean immigrants, and unemployed marchers who had participated in various struggles for minority rights and social justice.
When the present era was reached, there were cameo appearances by figures out of British literature, film, music, and sports such as Mary Poppins, Harry Potter characters, the Beatles, soccer hero David Beckham, and others. It also included a segment of praise for the country’s National Health Service that featured doctors and nurses dancing among (and on) hospital beds.
The last was too much for Rush Limbaugh who complained that the 2012 opening ceremony was an even greater celebration of the state’s primacy over the individual than the one presented in Beijing in 2008. He was convinced that Boyle, “a leftist,” had included the National Health Service to help President Barack Obama promote his efforts to provide universal healthcare in the U.S.
Boyle included one practical joke in the ceremony. James Bond (Daniel Craig) was filmed arriving at Buckingham Palace to pick up Queen Elizabeth for a helicopter ride to the opening ceremony at the Olympic arena. When they arrived above the arena, they (actually two stand-ins) were shown parachuting down, after which Queen Elizabeth walked into the stadium to take her seat!
Although the ancient Olympic Games were held in Greece from the 9th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D., our modern version was started in 1894 when Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee. Over 13,000 athletes now compete in the Summer and Winter Olympics in 33 different sports and nearly 400 events--some involving individual competition and others group competition.
Coubertin sought to give the Olympic competition an overall unifying context rather than a divisive one. These ideals were included in the Olympic creed: “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.”
The Olympic symbol carries this idea still further, The five intertwined Olympic rings represent the unity of the five inhabited continents: Africa, America, Asia, Australia, and Europe. The colors blue, yellow, black, green, and red were chosen because every nation has at least one of these colors on its national flag.
In an appreciative context like this, the individual and group struggle of all the participants, and not just the medal winners, is worth celebrating. Michael Phelps’ 22 swimming medals (18 of which are gold) represent great accomplishments and provide inspiration to other swimmers. Gabby Douglas’ two gold medals (the second for all-around gymnastic excellence) provide inspiration and are also to be celebrated. Oscar Pistorius, the first double-amputee to compete in the Games and to win a silver medal, provides inspiration and is to be celebrated, as well.
One might well raise questions, however, about the logic or justification of separating “winners” from “losers” (or from “almost winners”) when the difference in speeds of the first, second, and third placers is only in the hundredths of a second. That would seem to call for a sharing of the same medal designation.
There were marvelous displays of human skill and ability at the Summer Olympics. And there were sad times when four years of hard practice and high hopes were crushed by an unfortunate bobble, with no chance for a second try.
The symbolism of the five rings and the ideals of the Olympic creed will continue to challenge us during the coming four years until the next Summer Olympics.
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This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.