The 2016 Rio Olympics will begin today: a time when the elite athletes of the world come together to compete, showcasing years of hard work and proudly representing their countries. The focus – certainly from the press – is all about who has a realistic chance of winning: who might just bring home the gold for Britain. And it’s so easy to get swept up in this.
But why? Is it just the entertainment of watching competitive sports? Is it patriotism?
Although there is plenty that I enjoy about living in Britain, I don’t really consider myself to be patriotic…just fortunate. I’m not really a fan of watching sports either – at least not many shown in the Olympics. Yet, somehow I do find myself on the couch every four years, my breath held, waiting to either groan or cheer.
So what is it? Why do I care? Why do we care?
When we watch athletic superstars like Usain Bolt speed towards gold in the 100m race, it’s with an atmosphere of excited curiosity. Will Bolt do it again? Could he best his last time? Might something go wrong? Will he entertain us with his signature move at the finish? We watch with a sense of awe and wonderment because we know we’re often about to see the impossible achieved.
Alongside this, the press allow us to peek into the lives and stories of British hopefuls, which are so often a tale of effort and commitment, sacrifice and determination. Sometimes there’s a secondary storyline involving talent, good luck and opportunity, but the central narrative is centered around hard work and resilience: a battle against the odds. That’s what we enjoy.
This morning, I happened across a classic clip from the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, when Olympic Gold Medallist Derek Redmond tore his hamstring in the 400 metres semi-final. Sobbing in pain, his dreams crushed, Derek limped towards the finish line alone at first then quickly joined by his father, who jogged at his side. It was a truly beautiful and moving moment that has become one of the most memorable events in Olympics history, more so than whoever won that race. Because as much as we love to see people achieve and win, we equally love to see someone who keeps going, who battles in front of our eyes, win or lose.
The Rio Olympics are sure to bring more incredible wins and gut-wrenching losses: we will continue to see the impossible made possible. Though the timing tends of fall over summer, there are still opportunities for Olympic-themed lessons and discussion, either to send students on their summer holiday or start the year afresh in September. I always discuss stories of the year’s hopefuls with my students. Regardless of whether they finish first, last, or limp along with their dad at their side, all are fantastic examples of what the human spirit can achieve.