The Olympic flame burned brightly at the XXIX Olympiad. From the breathtaking pageantry of the opening ceremonies to the competitive events held in the Bird’s Nest and other venues, the world’s attention was riveted on events in Beijing, China.
Activity behind the Great Wall captured my attention, too. Of course, this might surprise some of my classmates who attended elementary school with me. My athletic prowess—or lack thereof—generally earned me the last spot on any team. (In truth, kindhearted captains often chose me out of friendship rather than any actual ability.) Yet there was so much more happening in Beijing beyond athletic events.
I marvel at the Chinese people. They truly invited the world to scale the Great Wall, a remarkable structure once built to keep intruders out of their private, non-democratic nation. Cab drivers and shopkeepers alike spent the last seven years learning basic English in order that all of us might feel more at home. I wonder when we Americans host the event, do we take the time to learn our visitors’ language? Frankly, my high school Spanish is quite broken.
Then there are all the stories. As a writer, I love compelling back stories. And each and every Olympics overflows with them. I think of Dara Torres and her drive to bring back gold at the age of 41. (OK, is there even an ounce of fat on that woman?) She competed with athletes half her age. Or Michael Phelps—what an amazing young man! I marvel at his unparalleled ability, his great smile and obvious zest for life.
Yet for every name catapulted to international stardom, there are thousands of Olympians who will never stand on the podium, never hear their national anthem played, never take home a coveted medal. This truth, however, does not diminish the fact that they are all—each and every one—champions. They earned the right, through personal sacrifice and dedication to their sport, to represent their country. They are the best and the brightest and nothing can take away their indomitable spirits, nor what they’ve learned on their long, arduous journey to Beijing.
Not all of the stories take place on the field or in the swimming lanes, though. Did you see the charming, 10-year-old boy carried by Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets basketball player, in the opening ceremonies? The 7-6 athlete, representing his native China in the Olympic games, honored the child who climbed out of the rubble of a deadly earthquake to save others in harm’s way. This diminutive child possesses the heart of a hero.
I think the most compelling story of this Olympics was the ever-present theme that has played out for centuries—the connection between every human being. These games represented the eternal connection that binds each of us to one another. We are all connected and we seek out that connection at work, in our neighborhoods, on the playing field, and in our place of worship.
This need for connection prompted China to invite the world to Beijing in 2008. Sure, part of their motivation was national pride. Nothing wrong with that. I’m proud to be an American but many of China’s citizens welcome this opportunity to connect with the outside world—to tear down walls.
That’s what each Olympics does. It brings the world together. For a few days, we set our differences aside, forget politics and personal agendas, to celebrate our humanity, our connectedness. We embrace one another regardless of our sex, religion, or politics. This is the true victory of every Olympics. The good news is, you and I have the opportunity to honor our connection with others each and every day of our lives.
May humanity’s flame burn in our hearts long after the Olympic torch is extinguished.
Cindy Kazalia is a Messenger staff writer.