Watching the Olympic Games on NBC has
been more than frustrating. The actual events are cleverly isolated
midst ad after ad, and chatter after chatter, on the screen. In
turned to a Spanish station that showed soccer, boxing, and races that
were not yet available on NBC, which seems exclusively interested in
Americans do at the Games. No doubt, Ethiopian, German, or Chinese
television networks feature their respective athletes.
suppose that if I were in
London, the logistics of getting to where separate events were actually
happening would be daunting. No one could see everything as it was
And while each event has its own history and fascination, some people
will be bored by swimming and others enthused by shooting or the pole
vault. But, no doubt, something worth watching can be found in any
In the course of two weeks, we see boxing, rowing,
equestrian events, track, shooting, jumping, vaulting, diving, swimming,
weight-lifting, judo, volley ball, field hockey, basketball, soccer,
wrestling, ping pong, gymnastics, badminton, hurdles, and marathons. The
things missing are football (American, Australian, Irish, and Canadian),
sailing, baseball, poker, golf, lacrosse, hunting dogs, cock fights,
fishing, auto racing, tractor pulls, and horse shoes. We see the world's
fastest men and women, as well as the strongest, the most agile, and
the most enduring.
When we finally are allowed un-interruptedly to watch a complete event,
it is precisely a spectacle, something to behold, to watch, fascinated.
from the occasional athlete who blesses himself before a race, the
heavy garb of some Muslim women, and the "God"
when "God Save the Queen" is sung in honor of some British gold
medalist, we see or hear no indication of religion, aside from shots of
Abbey or St. Paul's. The opening and closing ceremonies feature no
blessings. Perhaps it is just as well. Security is difficult enough as
Olympics did have religious origins in their Greek beginnings. Mt. Olympus was the home of the gods.
The idea that men did
their best before the gods is not to be ignored. And what could men do?
Were there any limits? Is there something finite about us? I remember
breaking the four-minute mile and the ten-second hundred-yard dash were
considered almost impossible. These old records are broken almost every
But now everything is in meters. Races are faster; jumps are higher;
equipment more skillfully designed. The pole of the pole vault is more
catapult; the starting blocks are streamlined, and the diving boards are
Again, what strikes us about the Games
is their universality, even though a few nations still dominate. For
many small countries, the winning of a bronze medal is more noteworthy
gold among the Americans or Chinese. Yet, the whole world seems to be
there. No other single event makes this quite so visible to us. The
organization promotes women participation (this may partially explain
the preference of volley ball to baseball).
If we look
at many of the Olympic eventsthe shot put, the javelin, the high jump,
the discus, wrestling, running, fencing, even rowingwe realize that
originally such events were military in origin. We need to add to this
list equestrian events. We have evidently "sanitized" them so that we
know, by these events, what man can do for its own sake. We still recall
that in the days of Soviet dominance and of Chinese accomplishments,
this military overtone was not wholly absent. The purpose of present-day
Olympic Games is to make known what the human being can do. Whether
worth doing or knowing will depend on one's concept of man. Ultimately,
we have to say that such things are worth knowing, though they are not
highest things that men everywhere need to know about what they are,
about their destiny.
Modern Olympics have been passed
from place to placefrom Berlin, London, Tokyo, Atlanta, Los Angeles,
Munich, or Rome. The present games are nationally based; athletes
the nations. The opening ceremonies emphasize this universality, though
they properly retain a nationalist basis. The world does not exist apart
the nations of the world.
What is fascinating about the
Olympics? It is the contest itself, the race, the effort to reach a
competition with others who are also qualified. Games and races are
things worth doing for their own sakes. They bring out something in us
even if we
could not run a hundred meters in half an hour. We human beings are not
just "doers," but we are also watchers and beholders. Ultimately this
may be the
best thing about us. I suspect that this realization is the best thing
we can learn from our watching the Olympic Games.