There is no escaping the 2016 Olympics and Para-Olympics at the moment. It has been thrust into our lives whether we like it or not.
So how can those of us who are not sporting superstars make the best of the Games? What have the Olympics ever really done for us? With a nod to Monty Python’s ‘Romans’ sketch, from the film Life of Brian, here are five reasons why the Olympics and Para-Olympics are so brilliant for those of us who are not elite athletes.
1. A sense of belonging
You belong to the world. Don’t be afraid to be part of it.
~ Thomm Quakenbush, Flies to Wanton Boys
Many of us regularly follow particular sports. For me and Hub, it is mainly cricket, rugby and tennis, with a spot of golf and snooker thrown in from time to time.
Both the summer and winter Olympic and Para-Olympic games provide the opportunity for total sport immersion, often in disciplines about which we know very little. How easy it is to become instant experts in the differences between fencing with a foil or épée; the importance of a good pike in diving; and the advantage of an ankle pick in a wrestling bout. Yes, we suddenly find we can speak with confidence over dinner about the finer points of the modern triathlon. So what? Without noticing, we have expanded our minds; learned new things; seen a broader vision of the world. We might even be spurred on to take up a new sport, having been shown what is possible. But most of all, we get to feel like we belong, as part of an incredible global community.
2. A glimpse of the possible (and sometimes the seemingly impossible)
Adventuring can be for the ordinary person, with ordinary qualities, such as I regard myself.
~ Edmund Hillary
Nelson Mandela said “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Watching Olympians achieving incredible feats is not only a privilege and an honour; it makes the impossible seem do-able. Setting world records, pulling off new moves, winning medals against the odds – such are the accomplishments that somehow seem inevitable once they are over. This is not to diminish in any way the amazing performances of those involved. Rather, it serves to highlight just how important it is to avoid dismissing something we might want to achieve ourselves without giving it a try.
3. The opportunity to empathise
No-one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.
~ Charles Dickens
When an athlete does not meet their own expectations, for whatever reason, it can be painful to watch. Few of us can genuinely understand the agonies of what it must be like to train in something for a life-time and come, say, fourth in the race. But we can understand in general what it is like seemingly to come up short. Guilt, embarrassment, shame – who has not experienced these feelings one time or another? OK, we might not be able to talk to an individual competitor in person. But we can find ways to send messages of support, or even simply allow ourselves to feel empathetic, avoiding any negative talk about a particular person. When we empathise with someone else, that is to say, when we show that we care, we help that person to feel loved, accepted and, yes, human. And in helping them, we diminish our own suffering.
4. A celebration of the best
Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
In these troubled times, the Games provide a beacon of hope. They create the space in which people can show some of the very best human qutilities: courage; loyalty; respect; team-work; support; aspiration; achievement; determination; sacrifice; love. It is impossible not to be moved by the emotions expressed by athletes at award ceremonies, pictures of family and friends cheering on their loved ones, teams celebrating the input of colleagues and helping them cope with defeat, opposing contestants congratulating each other. Win or lose, the competitors show us how we might face anything in our lives and come through the other side.
5. A chance to surpass ourselves
Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands, but not you.
~ Jim Rohn
Olympians are not born great. They have worked and worked, sometimes against incredible odds to get where they are. How marvellous it has been to watch those athletes from the Refugee Team this year. How brilliant to learn that one of Team GB’s medalists is usually a farmer (Ed Ling, who won bronze in the shooting). Yes, we all have the chance to succeed. We can all find ways to live our best lives. There is no barrier that we cannot overcome to reach our goals. The key is to know what those goals are, and to make steady, committed, daily progress towards them. We can be our own Olympians. Let us take inspiration from all those phenomenal athletes, rising to and exceeding our own expectations.
Have a great weekend, and enjoy the rest of the Games. 🙂