Every four years, the greatest athletes in the world represent their countries in the Olympics. This year, the two week event occurs in London, and runs from July 27th through August 12th. Nearly 180,000 spectators are expected each day in the city’s Olympic Park to watch the Games. While we marvel at the tremendous feats performed by the world’s most gifted athletes, the significance of the Games often goes beyond winning medals.
For instance, Saudi Arabia will send female athletes for the first time in their Olympic history, and no matter how they perform, they are a symbol of that nation’s progress on women’s rights issues. Also, because of these women, it marks the first time in Olympic history that every competing country will have a female representative.
The 1936 Olympics in Berlin also proved to be a human rights victory. Jesse Owens, an African-American who was already a track star at Ohio State University, would win four gold medals for the United States. The Games that year gave the world a big step forward in racial equality, especially since Owens’ win paved the way for Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier in professional sports.
For countries like Israel, the Olympics are about standing united despite unspeakable tragedy. During the 1972 Games in Munich, 11 Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists. While Israeli did not win any medals that year, they still stood together – not one Israeli athlete left the Olympics, and some even reached the semifinals in their events. These accomplishments are very impressive, especially considering that the competitors were still fearing for their lives, and likely still in shock that their fellow countrymen were killed just days before.
The impact that the Olympic Games have on athletes, and that the athletes have on the world, cannot be understated. Every few years, worldwide audiences learn about the triumphs, tragedies, and courageous dedication that athletes face in their quest for greatness.
The International Olympic Committee advises athletes that the Games are purely about competition, and that political statements are not to be made. However, the Olympics have a way of reflecting the human spirit, and the belief that no acts of political or religious discrimination can stop an athlete from representing their country with pride and valor on the way to achieving greatness.
No matter how you enjoy the Games, the significance of the Olympics always finds a way to go beyond medals. Happy watching!