Long live the Olympic spirit

Jeff Gilliland - Staff columnist

The last two weeks have been like a breath of fresh air. Why, you ask? Because of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.

I’m not sure when it started, but for as long as I can remember I have had a love affair with the Olympics. If they are on and I am near a television, you can bet I’m watching, regardless of the sport.

Summer or winter, doesn’t matter. Judo, curling, fencing, equestrian, luge, table tennis, cross country skiing, I like it all. But I do have my favorites. In the summer it’s track and field, then possibly gymnastics. Say what you want about the latter, but that is some amazing stuff.

Back in the day before remote controls and a dozen different channels showing the Games, I think that when the Olympics came around my family just turned the TV to that network, then left it tuned there for two weeks. I could be wrong though, because I can’t imagine my mom missing Johnny Carson for two weeks straight, let alone one night.

She was always up later than the rest of us, doing her ironing and such, while we were tucked safely in bed. She probably changed the channel for a bit, then flipped it back to whatever network the Olympics were on before she retired.

Regardless, if the Olympics were on, we were watching, from the time I was quite young.

I’m not sure when I first was hooked, but it had to be before I was 11, because I remember being an angry and frustrated little boy in 1972 during the summer Olympics in Munich, Germany when 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by a group called Black September. I remember the television footage like it was yesterday, and the words of late sportscaster Jim McKay still ring in my ears: “They’re all gone,” he said, when he announced that the Israelis had all been killed.

I was dumb struck. What? At the Olympics? How could such a thing happen, I wondered.

I was not completely naive to violence at the time. After all, the Vietnam War was going on and we heard the daily death counts on the nightly news. But at the Olympics? Who could do such a thing? Why? Don’t they know what the Olympics are about?

That’s why my 11-year-old world was temporarily shattered.

But I recovered along with the Olympics, because that is the spirit of the Games. They transcend evil and bring the world closer each time they roll around, if only for a few days.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a USA fan to the core. So much, in fact, that I have been more than a little perturbed by the almost total lack of red in the U.S. track and field uniforms at Rio, and other U.S. uniforms that have no red, white or blue whatsoever. For sure, I love to root for the Red, White and Blue.

But the Olympics have always meant much more to me than any single country. I’m not even sure I have the words to describe they way make me feel.

It’s a feeling of peace. It’s a feeling of possibility. It’s a hundred feelings wrapped in one – the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the desire to reach for the stars.

Oh, there are distractions every year – doping scandals, cheating officials, and the like – but the spirit of the Games rises above them.

Many years ago a man named John Lennon wrote a song called “Imagine.” You likely know the words. He asks if you can imagine a world without war, or a brotherhood of man? The answer is the Olympics. It’s why they are rarely turned off when I’m at home. It’s why my world was shattered in 1972.

The 2016 Rio Olympics have had many amazing moments. Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Simone Briles come to mind. But what will stand out more in my mind is two young girls, one from North Korea and one from South Korea, embracing after competing against each. Or American Abbey D’Agnostino and New Zealander Nikki Hamblin getting tangled up and falling in the 4000 meters, then helping each other up and to the finish line where they shared an emotional hug. Or any scene from the opening and closing ceremonies where athletes from all over the world hug, dance and sing together.

The Olympic spirit is alive and well. Why do some not get it? What if they did? Can you imagine?

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.


Jeff Gilliland

Staff columnist