Olympic afterglow: Hooray for humans!

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, August 15, 2012

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It’s over. The Games of the XXX Olympiad (cue trumpets and Bob Costas) are a memory.

Now some poor guy is out on the road with a burning torch, jogging from London to Rio de Janeiro.

It’s OK; he’s got four years to get there.

Bob Buckel

If you’re like me, you spent many hours motionless in front of a television, snacking and flipping channels while watching incredibly fit athletes strive and strain, using muscles your own body does not possess. Now the games are over, and other activities have filled that empty space like water flowing into Michael Phelps’s wake.

(In case you didn’t watch, Michael Phelps is a tall guy who can swim fast and has lots of gold medals.)

I thought London put on a jolly good show. I missed Her Majesty’s parachute jump in the opening ceremony, but Mister Bean and Sir Paul McCartney certainly did well. I loved the Olympic rings on the Tower Bridge, the barges on the Thames, and the cheeky spectacle of beach volleyball in the middle of stately old London.

We were playing Scrabble during the closing ceremonies, but from an occasional glance I gathered that some long-haired guys played guitar, some slinky women sang, some old guys made speeches and there were more fireworks.

I especially loved that torch, with a “leaf” for every country. It all came together to make one torch that burned throughout the games, then at the closing it cranked apart again. Each country gets to take its leaf home. Very cool.

When I was growing up, in addition to ballgames and space missions, my family always watched the Olympics and the Miss America pageant. Miss America and NASA aren’t what they used to be, but I’m still a fan of baseball and the Olympics.

I’ll take Gabby Douglas for Miss America any day.

The Olympics helped open my young eyes to the world. My earliest Olympic hero was Jean-Claude Killy, the French alpine skier. In junior high, my Scout troop took a ski trip to New Mexico, and we were all Jean-Claude. We left the lift tickets on our jackets for months, wore those yellow-tinted goggles for sunglasses, faked French accents and never told anyone about falling down on the baby slope.

Munich in ’72 got everyone’s attention, but in a horrible way, as a hostage-taking and botched rescue resulted in the deaths of the entire Israeli team. But strangely, I think that also made the Olympics more precious to us, more sacred.

Security was tightened, and the Games went on, marred by a boycott of South Africa’s games in ’76, the USA’s boycott of Moscow in ’80 after the invasion of Afghanistan, and the USSR’s retaliatory boycott of the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

Those political disputes cost some athletes the moments they’d worked for all their lives. But since then, and through it all, great athletes have continued to compete at the highest level, on the world’s biggest stage.

And they get along, and that gives us hope.

That’s what the Olympics is really all about – to show us how to bond even while competing, how to recognize and respect each other. If these athletes, win or lose, can embrace with tears, pick each other up and share that gold-medal stand, why can’t we share the planet?

That example is what makes the Olympics such a vital part of the human experience.

It’s more than medal counts, more than rooting for your country to “beat” the other countries, more than wrapping yourself in that flag for a victory lap. We cheer for humanity, and get misty-eyed no matter whose flag is being raised, no matter whose anthem is being played.

Because underneath our country’s colors, beneath the skin, we are so much more alike than different.

And we’re so much better together than we are apart.

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