In a world of dueling political memos about the FBI, at a time when we seem to squabble about anything and everything, I’m spending the next few days nourishing my beleaguered optimism. I’m tuning into the Winter Olympics — and the break from Washington pathology, divisive political partisanship and general government dysfunction couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.
The Olympic Games always make me feel a little better. I know they won’t bring about world peace, or solve the chronic problems of poverty and hunger, or prompt Democrats and Republicans to work together to do what they were elected to do. Those problems require a Biblical solution, along the lines of parting the Red Sea. So, no, I’m not holding my breath for a miracle.
Nonetheless, the Olympics provide both respite and entertainment. The athletes allow me to forget the drama of current events and inspire me to try a little harder at the gym. (My ticker could use an extra 5 to 10 minutes on the StairMaster.)
Attention for these 2018 games in Pyeongchang has focused on the fact that North and South Korea have overcome, at least for now, their decades-long family fight. During opening ceremonies they marched under the same flag, and their athletes are competing together. While I recognize the geo-political importance of this, it truly does nothing to stir my heart.
On the other hand, the beauty of figure skating does. The spectacle of snowboarding, too. And the marvel of ski jumping. And luging. And pretty much any of the sports that I will never, ever master. Even curling appears oddly fascinating. These teams’ feats are that much more impressive to someone like me, who has never been particularly coordinated or sporty. My claim to athletic fame is that I can still jump rope and do the hula hoop.
Frankly, I’m most interested in the athletes and their inspirational backstories; the twists and turns that have brought them to this particular world stage. There is Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, for example, who missed the 2014 games because of a knee injury. Now in South Korea, she has shown incredible fortitude to overcome not just her knee problem but several broken bones, shredded leg ligaments and a concussion over her career. How can I not cheer for her?
I must also cheer for the figure skaters, who are a delight to watch regardless of nationality. And Maame Biney, the first African-American woman to qualify for the Olympic speed skating team, and Boston University student Jordan Greenway, the first black hockey player on Team USA. Farther afield, the bobsled team of Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga bring a smile to my face. They comprise the first winter Olympians to represent Nigeria and also the first bobsled team to ever represent any African country. Then there’s German speed skater Claudia Pechstein, who at 45 becomes the first woman to compete in seven Winter Olympics Games. Old? Says who?
The cynics among us might scoff at the commercialism, the corruption, the lobbying and glad-handing of the games, but there is so much to celebrate in this gathering. I’m a sucker for tales of triumph, for stories that highlight the resilience and determination of the human spirit. No matter their talent, no matter their God-given gifts, these young athletes, all of them, have overcome several setbacks to get where they are now. Sometimes those obstacles are external, other times they’re burrowed deep inside. Regardless, both demand a Herculean single-mindedness to conquer.
That is what I find so uplifting in the Olympics. That can-do mindset, the striving for excellence, the incredible perseverance, these are all lessons we can learn, and apply, whatever our circumstances — without ever lacing up a pair of skates or squeezing into the narrow space of a luge going more than 80 miles per hour.