I cannot tell you how excited I am that the 2012 Summer Olympics are here! The fun began this past Friday and will continue until mid-August. I, along with billions of other Olympic followers around the world, was eager to watch the Opening Ceremonies and Danny Boyle, the brainchild behind the spectacle, did not disappoint. Isles of Wonder, as it was so aptly named, included all things British: James Bond, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, Paul McCartney, Muse, J.K. Rowling, David Beckham, and of course her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth. Add in an awe-inspiring fireworks display and we were treated to something very special. What a show!
To me, the whole idea behind the Olympics is pretty awesome. What other event can bring together countries from around the world to share their cultures and love of sports in a spirit of friendly competition? It is amazing to watch the athletes who have dedicated their lives to training and who are now proudly representing their country with the world watching. As a proud American, you can bet I am rooting for all 529 of our country’s Olympic athletes! My blood is running red, white and blue!
Since the introduction of the Olympic Games in 1896, the Games of the XXX Olympiad are the largest yet. With more than 10,000 participating athletes from 204 National Olympic Teams, London is playing host to the world’s greatest athletes and coaches. In total, 302 events covering 26 sports will be held. Most fans are familiar with the more popular sports such as swimming, gymnastics, volleyball, and track and field. But did you know that competitions in skeet shooting, judo, synchronized swimming, and trampoline gymnastics also take place?
As someone who has never been graceful or remotely athletic, I am awed by the sheer talent of the competing athletes. Their ability to deal with tremendous pressure and their willingness to sacrifice their bodies for the sport they love is beyond impressive. The skill, focus and dedication that each athlete puts forth to earn a spot on their national team is unbelievable. Hours and hours of training, injuries, relentless blood, sweat and tears….that is dedication.
But, my love of the Games goes beyond the sports. I am very much inspired by the athletes who have overcome extraordinary odds to compete. A fine example in this year’s Games is Sudanese track and field athlete Guor Marial. At the age of eight, Marial was kidnapped and forced into a labor camp during the Sudanese civil war. A total of 28 of Marial’s family members were killed in the conflict. But he was eventually able to escape to Egypt and then permanently to the United States where he was granted refugee status by the U.S. government. Because he has permanent resident status (but not citizenship) here in the U.S. and his home country, the South Sudan, has yet to form a National Olympic Committee and seek full recognition by the International Olympic Committee, Marial will be competing as an Independent Olympic Athlete. Of his participation as an Independent Athlete, Marial has this to say: “[sic] Right now it’s important for me to just be there, to show the world and the South Sudanese people I am here. You are here. You are a country. You are here. Which means, next time, in 2016, it’s not going to be me alone.” Talk about a positive force!
Another inspiring athlete is U.S. Olympic gymnast John Orozco, who has overcome financial, physical and emotional hardship in his quest to be an Olympian. Growing up in the Bronx, gymnastics wasn’t a very popular sport…especially for boys. His mom drove him an hour to a gym to train 4 to 5 hours a day, up to 6 days a week. The youngest of 5 kids, money in the Orozco house was tight. One night, John overheard his parents discussing the mortgage and wondering how they were going to pay it. Determined to help, John went to his coach and asked for a job. After receiving his first paycheck, he gave it to his father and said, “Use this to pay the mortgage.” In a word…wow. What an amazing kid.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Paralympic Games also began in London and will continue through September 9th. The Paralympic Games were started in 1948 by Dr. Ludwig Guttman as a sports competition for British World War II veteran patients with spinal cord injuries. His aim was to create an elite sports competition for people with disabilities that would be equivalent to the Olympic Games. Today there are 20 sports on the program and an estimated 4,200 athletes participating. Undoubtedly, the athletes participating in these Games have overcome additional hurdles and they deserve major kudos for their determination in the face of adversity.
So as I look forward to the next two weeks, I’m excited about what’s to come. Records will be broken, underdogs will prove to be champions and the world will become just a little bit smaller. It’s during the Olympics that I feel world peace is attainable.
P.S. In my research, I read that the Spice Girls are rumored to be reuniting onstage at the Closing Ceremonies on August 12th for their first performance together since 2008… and you thought the Games couldn’t get any more exciting! 😉