As most of you already know, the Winter Olympics is set to begin soon in Vancouver, Canada, with events such as skiing, ice hockey, luge, and snowboarding. The Olympics has a long, amazing history, full of triumph and victory, as well as the anguish of loss, defeat and injury. According to Wikipedia, Heracles built the first Olympic stadium in honor of Zeus after he had completed his twelve labors. The Games date all the back to 776 B.C., and were also used as a venue for religious sacrifice.
Athletes train and prepare their bodies and minds for years to compete in these events, dedicating themselves to person excellence, both physically and mentally. But what do the Olympics actually signify for the athletes, and for all those millions of people watching it around the world? Well, if you don’t have access to a television or newspaper, or are generally struggling to make ends meet each day, then the Olympics mean absolutely nothing to you, and it may as well not even exist. But for all the others around the world who do take notice, the Olympics bring with it a sense of awe, usually accompanied by a sense of national pride, especially for the hosting country. The Olympics are marked by lavish ceremonies, ideological boycotts, political entanglements, steroid scandals, and sometimes devastating violence, as in the 1972 Munich massacre, and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where Eric Rudolph detonated a bomb, killing two and injuring over one hundred others. One of the most famous historical/political stories of the 20th Century was when Jesse Owens, an African-American athlete, won four gold medals in front of Adolf Hitler at a time when Germany was hosting the games to display the superiority of the Aryan race. Take that you Nazi scum!
Now that we got that history out of the way, it’s time to get at the heart of what the Olympics are really about. The Olympic Games are a platform on which to display the pinnacle of humanity’s physical capabilities. It is our species defying gravity, while flexing every toned muscle in the human body. We watch these athletes pour sweat to try and win a gold medallion, but the medal is only a symbol, representing the hard work and personal sacrifice of the recipient. These athletes need not even have names, for they, too, are symbols—symbols of what the human body is able to accomplish when its mind and muscles are focused. Athletes are not competing against other athletes—athletes are competing first and foremost against themselves, and their competition merely exists to have a tangible object in which to measure their own abilities against. We are not watching nations competing against other nations—we are watching members of our species show off before the same gods and goddesses of those ancient Greeks, in order to marvel at the sheer strength and endurance of our own kind. This is what the Olympics truly mean, and this is why we watch them. So if you are flipping through channels this winter, and you happen to see that the Winter Olympic Games are on, take a moment to appreciate the significance and high level of importance that these events hold.