Olympic Odyssey: Why the Olympic games still matter

Olympic Games at the Panathenaic Kallimarmaro Stadium

EDITOR’S NOTE: This week marks the first installment of Olympic Odyssey by Mike Brock, an Olympics television producer for the CBC, a special for Expositor readers. 

by Mike Brock

MANITOULIN – Summer has landed on the Island. That sun warming your bones, the birds singing with a purpose. Boats and docks going in. This time of year—especially after the year that we’ve all had—most of us are usually looking forward to a trip, or maybe just taking it easy for a little while. 

There are hundreds of Canadian athletes who are looking forward to a trip this summer too, but there isn’t going to be anything easy about it.  

After a one-year delay, the Summer Olympics will kick off in Tokyo, Japan, on July 23, and for the athletes going to represent Canada, it will be the opposite of a vacation, it will be the ultimate work trip. The culmination of a lifetime of passion, hard work and commitment to sport. To be sure, these will be a Games like no other, in a year like no other, but there are a lot of reasons why the Olympics still matter.

Every two years, the Olympic Games provides a stage for the heights that humans are capable of. Jesse Owens, Mark Spitz, Nadia Comenici, Usain Bolt. These are the champions that have filled the record books and incited generations of athletic pursuits. But, dig a little deeper than the world records and gold medals, and the Olympics can show the good that humans are capable of. 

The official motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius—“Faster, Higher, Stronger”—but there is far more that the Olympics have to give than merely competition and athletic achievement. In his 1912 poem ‘Ode to Sport,’ Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, praises sport for its representation of ideals like ‘progress, peace, joy, and beauty.’ It sounds trite, and it would be naïve to believe that the Olympics haven’t become precariously perched on the bridge between the pursuit of excellence and the fickle fields of politics and economy, but still the ideals that drove de Coubertin ring true today. The Olympics can be all of these things. The athletes that you will watch this summer have dedicated their lives not just to be the best, but to be Olympic in every way.

The goal of every athlete is to progress, to get better. The hours of daily work designed to master their craft, repeated year after year in the name of getting better an inch or a fraction of a second at a time. Landing a quadruple axle? Running the 100 metres in under 10 seconds? The mental and physical progression needed to complete those feats reflect the investment of years, and sometimes decades of training. The Olympics are a great example of how we, as a society, can progress, too. For example, every cycle the Games get closer to gender equity, with the addition of women’s sports and events, and even events like mixed relays for swimming (4×100 metre medley) and athletics (4×400 metre). The rapidly expanding Paralympics will follow the Olympics in late August, using the same facilities, and with a worldwide audience, too. The games are about representation from every corner of humanity, and the recent creation of a World Refugee team, made up of athletes who have been displaced from their own countries, provides the kind of human stories that the Olympics have the power to amplify on a global scale.

At their best, the Olympics are the fury of competition and the agony of defeat projected against a backdrop of community and peace. And, most importantly, if the Olympics are about anything, they are about bringing the world together. While the pandemic is keeping international fans away this time, the kinship and sportsmanship displayed by the participants will prove that there is more that binds us together than keeps us apart. 

Mr. de Coubertin wrote about the beauty to be found in sport. The strength and grace of the greatest athletes in the world are reason enough to watch, but there are so many other elements. The balance between emotion and physicality. The resilience of athletes returning from injury. Team work. Leadership on and off the fields of play. There is beauty in every step, lift, jump or throw. Every sport, in its own way, is a demonstration of what the human body can do, and what people can do when they work together. We may not all possess the skill of the athletes that make possible feats bordering on the impossible, but the humanity and respect they have for each other is something that we can all strive for.

Above anything, the Olympics should be a celebration. They will certainly, as Mr. de Coubertin had hoped, bring joy to those who share in the experience from the athletes and their coaches to the fans and their couches. Be entertained by the best athletes in the world. Be thrilled with the competition, and the success. Enjoy the drama and excitement at almost every turn. Fill a few hours of your day with all the positive and visceral energy that sport at the highest level offers. The Olympics still matter, and they’re going to be a lot of fun.

So, let yourself be entertained, be blown away, be inspired. Be a sports fan. 

The opening ceremonies for this year’s Olympics will take place on Friday, July 23 at 7 pm ET. You can watch them on CBC. Stay tuned to The Expositor for more Olympic previews and content.