Home Again | Most athletes set fine examples in Rio

By Joanne Peterson | Aug 26, 2016

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio closed Sunday evening with a rhythm and charm the rest of the world must have anticipated. Within two weeks, a worldwide audience absorbed the spirit of Brazil and its people.

Closing ceremonies featured the mingled teams of 205 countries entering the stadium together, joining a kaleidoscope of music and dance, lights and costumes, special effects – and the extinguishing of the Olympic flame.

The Olympics provide life-shaping opportunities for athletes to demonstrate their proficiency and represent their countries.

These are hard times for patriotism.

Sometimes negativity hovers too close, and cynicism wins the day. How heartening that athletes – some with tears in their eyes – often spoke of their deep sense of honor in competing for their countries. In particular, many U.S. competitors spoke of their pride in representing their nation.

They set a fine example for young people watching their athletic heroes from home.

Americans brought home 121 medals and, with few exceptions, were a credit to their families, their coaches, their teams and their countries. Their years of discipline, sacrifice and love of their sport culminated in a trip to Rio, where some emerged victorious, while others suffered defeat.

Together, they grew stronger. While in Rio, they formed relationships with athletes from other sports and other nations, certainly a bonus to carry into the future.

During the games, the coverage of Rio revealed a fascinating city and its people. Daily television coverage showed dramatic views of the famed Christ the Redeemer statue, rising over 100 feet above a mountain peak overlooking the city.

The statue, a symbol of Christianity, evolved into a cultural icon, announcing: This is Rio! This is Brazil! The sweeping views from that peak, as well as a multitude of venues, became familiar to everyone watching the games.

Late in the Olympics, when the Brazilian men’s soccer team won a gold medal in the tense, final match over Germany, triumph swept through the partisan crowd, and the joy in the stands was overwhelming. It was difficult to imagine any other ending for that game. Some victories just seem “right” – and that one did.

The Brazilians managed to produce the Summer Games without catastrophe, despite understandable concerns. Stories of kindness and bravery daily made their way into the news. Most stories reflected the character of dedicated athletes, ¬a favorite example being two young women – one from New Zealand and one from the U.S ¬– colliding and falling on the track, only to rise and help one another continue.

That heart-warming incident played on major networks hundreds of times.

Many Olympic athletes leave the excitement and drama of the heights of competition to return to struggling economies, personal poverty, uncertain futures and political unrest. In reality, I suppose all of the athletes return to countries where the same uncertainties exist, to some degree or other.

I think, though, that the sportsmanship of the games travels home with the athletes, wherever home is. And I think athletes who compete in the Olympics shape their world.

Our world.


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