The Joy of the Olympics

There is something so soothing about rituals that we experience as a human being, and one of my favorites is the Olympics. I adore both the summer and winter Olympics, love the pageantry, the supreme physical prowess, edge-of-your-seat excitement, and most of all, the camaraderie that belies the international athletic rivalry. Despite the pandemic shutting down the Tokyo Summer Olympics last year, the games have gone ahead this year, branded as Tokyo 2020. It’s true that this was a risky decision, given there is a spike in the number of cases thanks to the Delta variant. Also, sadly, there were virtually no spectators other than fellow teammates from one’s country. That said, it was still a joy to watch the Tokyo 2020 games, is there is something so deeply exciting about them.

We have learned the importance of an audience; some people have refused to watch the games, saying they are not the same without the cheering spectators. This is true, for the presence of sound and fans really does something to amplify the emotions around a sporting event. Instead, we have focused on the athletes themselves, observing their movements and their skills, how they play the game or execute the maneuvers.

It is also exciting to rally around someone from one’s country. People who come from countries that seldom win medals or who have minimal representation compared to powerhouses like the United States and China feel this even more strongly. Consider Indonesia’s gold in women’s badminton, or India’s century-awaited gold medal win in javelin. We pin our hopes and dreams on these athletes, feeling their anguish as well as their jubilance when they win. We live vicariously through them, tossing our rackets in the air after a successful tennis game or crying with them when they have accomplished the life goal of competing in the Olympics.

On the social side, there have been some great victories, such as Sunisa Lee taking the gold in women’s all-around gymnastics as the first Hmong-American to compete in the Olympics. We have seen more gender-equal commentary from the broadcasters during the events, with even “gender reversal” of colors with a man wearing a pink shirt and a woman wearing a blue shirt!  And there has also been more humanity, with deep sympathy for Simone Biles prioritizing her mental health over competing in the games. 

 It’s true, this has been a much more introverted sort of Olympics with much less fanfare and excitement. But still, the games persisted, and the athletes carried on. We really needed this, something that is global and exciting to get us out of our pandemic shells. Sports are one of the great uniters among people, along with music, food, emotions, and celebrations. We need things that are out of the ordinary, especially at a time like this our lives have been so limited due to Covid. But the human spirit still goes on, gives us hope.

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