Along with over 60% of the world’s population, I watched the Olympics last summer. For me, lonely athletic greatness is the ultimate tear-jerker. And I am a sucker for painless ways to cry. But, I just couldn’t get behind all the flags, all the anthems, all the medal counts. Each awards ceremony felt oppressive, itchy, and, yes, embarrassing.
As much as I enjoyed crying when the first Puerto Rican heard her national anthem on the Olympic podium or when my few fellow Colombians felt the weight of gold around their necks, I much more enjoyed watching them do their thing on the court, field, pool, track. I much preferred witnessing that sudden instant of triumph, like when Simone Manuel realized she had won gold, than watching jump-suited athletes choke back orchestrated tears on the stage. For me it’s ultimately a “don’t love the game, love the player” kind of thing.
Classifying athletes by nationality feels off. It feels old, even creepy, as if a third world war is somehow looming around the corner. One obvious reason is that not all countries deserve so much credit. Sure, most nations pay their Olympians a per win bonus. In the case of Colombia, for example, each gold medal winner gets 165 million pesos, which is a respectable amount of local currency. But, really, this sum is nothing when placed on the other side of the work/time equation.
An even bigger question for me is why athletes jump at the chance to give their countries so much credit. Is country really a reason to hit the gym in the morning? Or, is there simply no better way to classify athletes other than birthplace?
Classifying them by humility would be great. Or by kindness, by altruism. Then the Olympics could really own the claim of hard win over easy bad, instead of diluting itself into another day of the US v. China thumb wrestling medal grounds.