Monday, August 13, 2012

Of youth and dreams: The Olympics

Into London's Olympic Stadium they walked, team after team, country after country. For hours they walked in, so many colors and outfits and flags. From all over our globe, brimming with hope and beauty; the summer Olympics' quadrennial crop of youth.

The Olympics have rich history and tradition, but they are as big a celebration of youth as you'll find. Like youth, they are packed full of excitement and dreams and experiences and thrills. And like youth, they are relatively fleeting. For two weeks and change, the Games are overwhelming, all-encompassing, so much action. And then they are no more. Maybe that's why they can seem so bittersweet.

It's hard to express, but these almost felt like my Games. The average age of athletes at these games is 26.1. I am 25.5, if we're going to bring in the decimals. Had I been an Olympic athlete, these Games probably would have been my wheelhouse.

But it seems it's not my destiny to be an Olympic athlete. So I watched. We watched.

What moments we saw. Michael Phelps and the Misty May-Kerri Walsh combo affirming their greatness. Missy Franklin bursting onto the scene. Usain Bolt's awe-inspiring sprint victories (NBC announcer Tom Hammond can add "Here's Bolt!" to his growing list of enduring Olympic calls). Oscar Pistorius running on those artificial legs. Carmelita Jeter pointing at the clock after the U.S. 4X100 team broke the world record. Alex Morgan's 123rd minute header to beat Canada that shook Old Trafford. USA Basketball (men and women) doing what USA basketball does. The U.S. gymnastics girls steeling their nerves to win the team gold. Gabby winning the all-around. Morgan Uceny falling on the last lap of the 1,500, smacking the track in tears. And, of course, Britain's fans roaring for their athletes, cheering "face of the Games" Jessica Ennis to victory in the 800 meter run to wrap up her heptathlon gold. Cheering on Mo Farah to goosebump-inducing victories in the 10,000 and 5,000 meters. Cheering on Andy Murray to gold at the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon. What a 17 days. Till we meet again, Olympics. (Want to see all this and more, set to music? Here you go.)

It's the dual nature of the Games, the over-the-top money grab in which sponsors may have replaced the Olympian gods and goddesses of the ancient Games in stark contrast to the purity of the Olympic ideal, of the beautiful idea of the youth of the world gathering in the spirit of competition, sportsmanship and dreams coming true.

But in the end, I think that long drive by the athletes to achieve their dreams is a big part of why the Games appeal to such a wide range of people. Few of us are world-class athletes. (The thought of all those athletes near my age competing in the Games was just a bit sobering.) But all of us know something about dreams. Hopefully most of us know something about chasing our dreams.

During the Olympics, NBC aired a great feature by Tom Brokaw about Britain's Roger Bannister becoming the first man to break the four-minute-mile barrier. Bannister was a doctor, but he found a cause in trying to break the barrier. Britain was still war-weary in the 1950s, and it would bring great pride to whichever country could break the mark. Some people didn't think the human body was capable of running a four-minute mile. But Bannister had the goal, kept trying, and on a somewhat dreary day in 1954 in Oxford, he made another attempt. Brokaw asked, what were you thinking as you made that frantic final charge down the homestretch?

Bannister, an eloquent speaker, gave a simple, wonderful reply.

"All I knew was that I was going as hard as I could."

I think there's a lot of wisdom in that. Find your dream, then go as hard as you can.

Roger Bannister crossed the line in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.

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