Aug. 11 WEEKENDER: Second Opinion – An ode to Olympic athletes

The source of the Olympics' popularity is not nationalistic pride. In our hearts, Olympians perform for each of us.

Grand Forks Gazette WEEKENDER columnist Jim Holtz.

Grand Forks Gazette WEEKENDER columnist Jim Holtz.

What’s not to like about the Olympics?

All right, perhaps a couple of things, but really, no matter how many examples there are of doping disqualifications, suspicious judging and refereeing decisions, whining or gloating professional athletes or high living and free-spending Olympic Committee officials, what’s not to like?

The majority of competitors still struggle to find sponsors and support, still train and practice year after year (sometimes for 20 or more years) just to find the limit of their strength and skill, to test themselves against all the others from around the world in their chosen sport.

It is a vast public display of stamina, single-mindedness and strength of will, not to mention co-ordination and athleticism.

Anyone who has competed in sports, even at the high school or club level, understands how special Olympic athletes are.

While most of us have dreams of being great athletes at some time in our youth, we find out soon enough that there are people in the world, many people, who have greater skills than we do and there is really not much we can do about it except cheer them on.

Those who are better in high school or university or in minor hockey, and who go on in their sports, find out as well that there are those with even greater gifts and, as importantly, who are driven by a passion to excel that seems indefatigable and indomitable.

Those young men and women who find satisfaction in relentless training and competition and in the repeated rush of adrenalin and endorphins, who are willing to postpone perhaps forever the normalcy of regular social interaction and suffer instead a constant string of injuries and pain, they get little in the way of reward.

Mostly, they do it for themselves, but if they get as far as the Olympics, and very few do, then they do it for us as well.

I wonder if they understand how meaningful their performances are to us.

I don’t mean “us” the country, I mean all of us individually, the ones who never had the muscles, the stamina, the co-ordination, who were never born with the right bodies, who were too small, too slow, too fat.  Too weak in will.

We wanted to be like them; we tried for awhile, but learned it was not to be.

So we watch them every four years instead, on the diving board, on the still rings, on the mats, the track, the field, and marvel at their beauty and grace and strength and determination.

What we feel is more than mere admiration.  It is a kind of thankfulness that they have done what we could not, that they suffered and sacrificed when we would not, that they had the will even though we did not.

That is the source of the Olympics’ power and popularity, not the nationalistic pride aspect that politicians and advertisers try to engender.  In our hearts, the Olympians perform for each of us.

I hope they know how grateful we are.

– Jim Holtz is WEEKENDER columnist and former reporter for the Grand Forks Gazette