On August 5, the Olympic torch was lit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, kicking off the thirty-first Olympic Games. The seventeen days that followed were full of happy tears and sad tears, veteran swimmers and rookie marathon runners, competition and sportsmanship, goosebumps, greatness and gymnastics. For seventeen days, I glued myself to my TV and my computer, frantically googled athletes and schedules, yelled with nerves and excitement as I watched people win, lose, and tie, and critiqued athletes with 95-packs as I ate ice cream on the couch. And when the closing ceremony aired and a jumbled mess of thousands of athletes walked out into the pouring rain, I burst out crying.
Some may think that the Olympics are just sports events, with the best athletes from all over the world gathering to compete. And they’re not wrong – on the surface, that’s exactly what the Olympics are. But to me, the Olympics have a deeper meaning. They’re about forgetting what divides countries and people for a little while and just enjoying the games. They’re about coming together as countries to celebrate our athletes and coming together as a planet to celebrate each other.
This summer, goosebumps hit me hard and often. I got them when Michael Phelps swam his last Olympic race, I got them when Katie Ledecky blew everyone else out of the water (pun intended) during the women’s freestyle 800, I got them when Alyson Felix won her fifth gold medal, I got them when Simone Manuel became the first African American woman to win a gold in an individual swimming event, I got them when Ashton Eaton won his second gold medal in men’s decathlon, and I got them when Simone Biles and Aly Raisman dominated the field in gymnastics. But I didn’t get them just when the United States performed. I got goosebumps when Mo Farah (Great Britain) won two gold medals in the men’s 5000m and 10000m races, I got them when Wayde van Niekerk (South Africa) smashed the world record in the men’s 400m, I got them when Tom Daley and Daniel Goodfellow (Great Britain) fell into the pool while hugging after winning bronze in men’s 10m synchronized platform diving, I got them when Usain Bolt (Jamaica) destroyed his last Olympic race, and I got them when Yusra Mardini (Refugee Olympic Athletes), a Syrian refugee and Olympic swimmer who pulled a boat of her fellow refugees to land after the motor died, proudly marched with other refugee Olympians into the stadium during the opening ceremony.
So yes, the Olympics are about celebrating our own countries and our own athletes. But, at their core, the true purpose of the Olympics is to show all of us how similar we are. Each of the athletes competing during the Olympics were equal on the field, on the track, in the swimming pool, on the golf course (returning after 104 years!). Regardless of where we call home, everyone came together for seventeen days to cheer on the athletes of the world as they showed off their skills. When a South Korean gymnast took a selfie with a North Korean gymnast, when an American runner helped up a New Zealand runner after a collision – those are the moments that gave me goosebumps. Those are the moments that show what the Olympics are really about.
~ Samantha Lee