The Olympics–Best at What?

Ah, the Olympic games! They evoke awe, admiration, pride. They speak of excellence and gold medals, set new records which we equate with what is best. After all how many people break an Olympic game record? Those who do have to be the best. We stop there in our analysis usually satisfying ourselves that the best means the highest humankind can achieve and we redouble our adulation for the individual who has thus broken the record. And if this person happens to be from our own country, then he or she is a peerless hero.
Yes, Olympics athletes are the best, but the best in a delineated context, one that is as human and as worldly as it gets, the best at getting the body to perform. They stretch the limit of physical prowess, but what about its counterpart, the spirit?
I know all about team spirit and all that, but the Olympics are not really about team spirit, they’re about winning, they’re about competition and how many gold medals a nation will win–things that do not strengthen one’s relationship to whatever is grander than ourselves. Spiritual realities emphasize cooperation, unity, equality. Like it or not, it does suggest that the Olympics for all their glory and their achievements do not nurture the part of us which link us to what is greater than our physical self.
Perhaps there is progress, modern Olympics can be more than physical prowess. They have become a form of international summit, a foreign policy event, if not a tool where messages are sent and diplomacy is tacitly or overtly practiced. Opening and closing ceremonies, for example, can be times when differences are put aside and some sense that we belong to one humanity is as present as it ever is. Still let’s not go too far in our hope that the Olympics will fulfill a larger spiritual purpose. The games are after all big business. Cities compete to be hosts, and spend millions of dollars for the honor, banking on tourism, publicity and prestige to eventually help bring in more than they spent. This year, NBC paid almost a billion dollars for the broadcast rights. And yet, one must hope that as they deal with a globalized world, as the issue of technological enhancements is addressed and as the human body without those extras rebecomes its natural self, meaning there will only be so far it can go, that the games will look to other criteria and stand for something besides the sheer physical feats that are now heralded.