5 Lessons from the Rio Olympics: All that Glitters is (mostly) Gold

Every 4 years, we get a gift like no other: the Olympics, brought to us in living color. Again this year, I walk away with new lessons learned and old lessons more deeply entrenched. Here is my 5 medal haul from the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, brought to us from Brazil.

Diversity is rich.

Olympic headlines straightI love the rainbow of color in pageantry, flags, uniforms, cultures and people which is so beautifully captured in the color photos which splash across, not only my sports page, but the front page of my newspaper throughout the Games. The stories are colorful. The athletes are colorful. The events are colorful, and the action photos get me every time. Something about a color photo speaks a story that words and pictures in black and white alone can’t quite convey.

I’m sure the papers know that I am out there, paying more attention than usual, and these expensive photos are guaranteed to sell more newspapers than usual. Perhaps there is a small uptick in the otherwise precipitous slide that print media is experiencing day to day, versus moving color brought to us by our screens at all hours and with instant effect. How they select the one image to represent the day, I can only imagine. Love it and LOVE the headlines.Thank you.

I only wish that after the games are done our valor would continue to be as color-worthy as these few weeks were.

Love your country.

flag American OlympicThere is just something about watching the stars and stripes rise as the national anthem is played that gets me right there — and it gets them. That may be the most surprising thing of all. These athletes who have won other international events, medalled in previous Olympics or other world games, or even won medals earlier in the competition, are touched to tears on the medal stand.

Seeing that flag raised in your honor, recognizing your effort on behalf of your nation, it is palpable and remarkable, even vicariously.

To be truthful, I don’t always feel a great love for everything about my country, but I am reminded of this shortcoming when I see the genuine joy that comes from athletes winning a first or only medal for their country. And even more so when I watch 10 athletes without a country, competing under the Olympic banner as the Refugee Olympic Team!

refugee-olympic-teamSwimmers, Yusra Mardini, Rami Anisand, runners Rose Lokonyen and Yiech Biel, James Chiengjiek, Paulo Lokoro, Anjelina Lohalith and Yonas Kinde and judokas, Yolande Mabika and Popole Misenga —  you have my absolute respect.

Refugee athletes, you are the spirit of sport and the class of the Games!

Sport makes us better.

The Olympic MottoThe Olympic motto is the hendiatris (link included because I didn’t know what a hendriatis was, either) Citius, Altius, Fortius, which is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” It was proposed by Pierre de Coubertin upon the creation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894, who borrowed it from his friend Henri Didon, a Dominican priest who was an athletics enthusiast.

Faster, higher, stronger is commanded of all of us; we invisible folk, who toil at desk jobs, wait tables, collect rubbish, and man the assembly lines, as well as we prominent folk, who cut deals, promote products, star in movies and record hit records. Going faster, reaching higher and getting stronger in whatever we do is worth striving for. In fact, it may be what makes it worth doing.

This is why we compete.

This is an old lesson but one that bears repeating, reminding and reiterating: competition reveals us in a way nothing else can. Testing ourselves against an opponent to see just how good we can be forces us dig deep. Testing ourselves against the best in the world in our chosen sport forces us to call on every resource at our command. And then to shift into an even higher gear. There will be only one winner and only three places awarded medals, but the competition itself exposes us.

katy-ledecky- LATimes

Katie Ledecky (photo credit, LA Times)

We saw amazing acts of speed, strength and power. Tremendous performances, personal bests, firsts of all kinds including Olympic and World records. While sports, as they are competed, continue to change, what is changed most of all are those who compete in them.

The Olympians always remind us that even greater than winning is competing. When competition defines the rules and lays the groundwork, it becomes our measure. Provided that the playing field is level, the event shows what we’re made of with all pomp and pretension, glamour and glory stripped away. The world is watching; on this day, in this event, who will you be?

D'Agostino-Hamblin photo from Ian Walton Getty Images

(photo credit: Ian Walton, Getty Images)

What a great Olympic moment it was for Abbey D’Agostino of the US and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand who, after colliding and falling to the track in a 5,000-meter heat, turned to each other for help and support to complete the race. Their medal hopes lost, it was just their “we have to finish this,” that got D’Agostino through 5 1/2 more laps on a damaged ACL, MCL and meniscus. For their display of sportsmanship, the women received the Fair Play award, signifying Olympic Caliber sportsmanship.

Some people shouldn’t be given a microphone.

Lochte Olympic swim - Fox News

Ryan Lochte (photo credit Fox news)

When competition exposes us our humanness hangs out, and sometimes it oozes all over and the cameras capture it all. We’d like to think of our Olympic athletes, champions all, as role models for all that is good in our youth and in the world. They come close but they can also fall very short. Especially if they are “high profile,” this makes a great story, and it becomes a feeding frenzy to tell, project, stream and tweet. Today, the sound byte is king and net traffic fills it’s coffers.

What’s clear to me is that while all the athletes in these Olympic games should be celebrated for their athletic accomplishments, some should not be given a microphone. Unfiltered thoughts, shared publicly, take on a life of their own, and remind us once again that sport exposes.

These athletes are certainly our nation’s fastest, highest, and strongest, but are they the best humans we have? Maybe as we all try to be swifter, higher, stronger versions of ourselves we should ask whether to get behind a microphone or whether it would be better just to let our records speak for themselves? Our athletes…have spoken.

So long Rio. Now we can return to our regularly scheduled jobs, households, duties, volunteer activities, reading, writing and commuting – wherever we left off. I’m not sure I’ll be reading so much of the paper, though, since we’re back into that other season that happens every four years. Please hold the color photos.

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