Gods Among Men

I don't often watch sports on TV.  I am that person who will only willingly watch football on every four years during the World Cup and even then only when my teams are playing (Nigeria and England).  But I am a sucker for Olympic season.  I count it a privilege that I lived and worked in London during the 2012 Olympics (especially as I moved to Hamburg the following year).  I don't think I've ever felt more patriotic.  I basically walked around that summer with a "best of British" badge on and it was Team GB all the way.  I remember the panic that preceded the Olympics, how busy London was supposed to get, how people were advised to work from home if they could and how all of us theatre workers anticipated needing to add an extra hour to our commutes.  But then everything was fine.  Everything was better than fine; it all went smoothly.  the volunteers on the London transport service were impeccable, everyone smiled for two weeks, the trains were basically empty and ran on time (I still don't know how the tourists were getting around) and the weather was beautiful.  The whole experience was basically magical.  Then, to top it all off, Team GB came third in the medals count.  Not bad at all.

I love the Olympics because they show us how incredible the human body is.  We all sit in awe and watch athletes achieve what we thought was impossible.  I watched Simone Biles's floor routine with my mouth agape at the fact that this young woman can fly.  She can actually fly.  And I like to overthink things so I'm that person who thinks of the dedication and determination that it takes to become a gold medalist.  You don't just wake up one morning an Olympian.  Being the best requires years of dedication and training and a countless amount of disappointment.  I used to run in middle school; I was a sprinter.  I did the 100m and the 200m (my favourite) and I always won, every year, minimum effort.  Then I reached high school and ran a race and lost (came in second) and quit because I realised that to maintain my position at the top I had to actually put some effort in and train.  

In over 100 years the Olympics have only been cancelled three times: in 1916 because of WWI and in 1940 and 1944 because of WWII.  The world has gone through numerous disasters and wars but it has taken the biggest and worst wars of our time to constitute a cancellation.  Don't you wonder at that?  Don't you wonder that through all of our disappointments and differences both culturally and political we still manage to come together peacefully every four years in the Olympic games?   I wish we could focus on that.  I wish we could focus on athletes who run 100m in less than 10 seconds and athletes who win almost every medal there is to win in gymnastics and athletes who break world records year after year.  Instead there are people focusing on hair and attitudes and body language.

Because we stand in awe at these athletes it's very easy to forget that they are only human.  The Olympics were created to honour the Greek god Zeus way back in ancient times by competing in god-like feats and we can often be sucked into the illusion that these athletes are god-like.  They are incredible but they are not gods.  They are people and they have feelings.

I gave up running because I didn't love it enough to bear the disappointments of failure.  I love dance, which is why I have been dancing for 14 years despite countless disappointments.  It's easy for us to judge the conduct of the athletes we are watching on TV forgetting than half of them are kids and all of them are human.  Nobody mentions it because we are all in awe with our new toy, Simone Biles, but how must Gabby Douglas feel to have gone from a gold medalist in the individual all-round competition just four years ago to not even being able to compete for a medal this year?  I'm sure she's happy for her teammate but it's still got to hurt.  It would hurt me but maybe I'm just petty.  Then on top of that she has to deal with people calling her out for "bad" hair and a "bad attitude"?  Are you kidding me?  Take a video of me losing at a game of monopoly with my family and you'll see a bad attitude.  Losing sucks and being an Olympian doesn't make it suck any less.  It probably makes it suck more.

I understand that we hold our Olympic athletes to a higher standard because they are out there representing our countries.  They should be held to a high standard.  But you can't call a person out for feeling disappointment or having an opinion.  Call a person out for committing acts of vandalism and then filing a false report of armed robbery in a foreign country - Ryan Lochte.  Oh but they're just kids and we should give them a break, right?  (spot the sarcasm).  Would they say the same of a team of Brazilians in America?  I think not.  And a 32-year-old man is no kid.  These athletes, as incredible as they are, are not gods and should not be judged as such or excused as such.

As for me I'm going to celebrate all the ways in which the 2016 Olympics have been great already.  The fact that this is the first Olympic games to be held in South America (big up Brazil), and that this year's games has the highest percentage of female competitors ever (45%), and that black people are breaking records and dominating this year.  I will be in awe as Jessica Annis reclaims her gold for the heptaphalon after having a baby and proudly supporting the team of refugees who persevered despite the odds and refused to let something as little as not having a country get in the way of competing.

 Let us smile at their victories and allow them to cry in their defeats and remember that we all put our trousers on one leg at a time, Olympian or not.