Commentary: Olympic Fever

Our political columnist takes a short break from the campaign trail to cheer on Team USA.

Posted: 08/03/2012 10:51 AM EDT
Michael Steele, Olympics, politics

What a wonderful break this has been. Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have been knocked off the front pages by the quadrennial sports fest known as the Olympics (although Romney tried to steal a few headlines upon his arrival in London).

 

I have to admit I have been captivated by the 2012 Olympic Games. From the majestic aerial entrance of the latest “Bond Girl,” Queen Elizabeth II, during the Opening Ceremonies to the drama of swimmer Michael Phelps (from my home state of Maryland) getting his 19th and then his 20th Olympic medals, making him the most decorated Olympian — ever, I have found myself wanting more. An impromptu survey of folks standing in line at Starbucks and pumping gas at Wawa revealed I’m not alone. In fact, the Olympics have been good TV, as evidenced by the ratings thus far.

 

But what is it about these Olympics that make them stand out? Maybe it’s the enjoyment of watching the competition among teammates and nations or the precision of archery (have you seen the bows they use?) or the brute strength of weight lifting. Maybe you are like me and were riveted by the finesse of the American fencers (OK, I was a fencer in college). Perhaps it is something as innocuous as the uniforms that captures the Olympic moment for you. After all, for some sports the more traditional and patriotic attire has been updated and for others, like women’s beach volleyball, they can actually put more clothes on (the International Volleyball Federation has ruled players are free to wear shorts and sleeved tops now). So much for tradition.

 

No, it’s the athletes. Without a doubt they have gotten stronger, faster and more accurate in their skills. But it’s something else: these athletes are real people with stories to tell. Their stories, like their efforts to be the best at these Olympics, are powerful, poignant and connect to us to the drama of the games. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “…the new age brings to each of us the challenge of achieving excellence in our various fields of endeavors. In the new age, many doors will be opening to us that were not opened in the past, and the great challenge which we confront is to be prepared to enter these doors as they open.”

 

To watch these Olympians struggle through the frustrations of just missing the mark or the pressures to push through the pain and even the crushing reality of defeat still inspires and opens doors for the next generation. But it is the lessons they have already shared long before they got to London that I believe have defined these Olympics.

 

When I watched Kayla Harrison win the gold medal in Judo (becoming the first American male or female to do so), I was reminded of how this young woman overcame sexual abuse by her childhood coach (she eventually had him put in jail) and felt an immense sense of pride in her accomplishment.

 

And then there is Gabby Douglas and the sheer perseverance she showed throughout her march to becoming the first African-American to win an all-around gold medal in the artistic gymnastics women's individual all-around competition. Her victory gives living testimony to Dr. King’s words, for she not only confronted the challenges before her, she boldly entered through the doors that were opened by the financial and personal sacrifices of her family.

 

Each hour of each day of these Olympics, more and more stories are being told across the spectrum of talent, nationalities and experience; more and more doors are being opened and a new generation is poised to go through them.

 

Soon enough we will return to our regularly scheduled programming. Mr. Romney will announce his vice presidential choice, the national conventions will get underway and the country will elect a new president. But until then, I’m settling down with a cold a drink, some incredibly gifted athletes and my little American Flag and I am going to soak in every moment of every story and watch the doors open!

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

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