Last night the world came together as it does every two years. This time it was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Olympics are not without controversy and these Olympics are considered the yet another installment of the “modern” Olympics. We think of mythology as something akin to fairy tales, imaginary happenings and yet, last night, the world came together as part of a dynasty that, according to legend, was started by the mythical hero Heracles, also known as Hercules.
It is considered Olympic history that these games were held from 776 BCE to 393 ACE, a span of over twelve hundred years. Most believe the games had been ongoing for a period of time before 776 BCE but this is the first year that the games were documented. The single event was a race run by a naked runner. A cook by the name of Coebus ran the 192 meters/210 yards and was victorious.
This year is a continuation of the games’ reboot in 1894, the idea of a Frenchman. A child during the Franco-Prussian War in which France was defeated, Pierre de Coubertin believed the key to France’s recovery was in strong athletes. While others had tried to revive the games abolished by the Emperor Theodosius, Coubertin was a nobleman with the resources to persevere. He founded the sports organization Union des Sociétés Francaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA) and two years later proposed reviving the Olympic Games.
“Let us export our oarsmen, our runners, our fencers into other lands. That is the true Free Trade of the future; and the day it is introduced into Europe the cause of Peace will have received a new and strong ally. It inspires me to touch upon another step I now propose and in it I shall ask that the help you have given me hitherto you will extend again, so that together we may attempt to realise [sic], upon a basis suitable to the conditions of our modern life, the splendid and beneficent task of reviving the Olympic Games.” In 1892 Coubertin gave this speech which was not well received. In true Olympic spirit, however, he repeated it two years later at a meeting he hosted with seventy delegates from other countries and was met with more success.
Last night the world came together once again, this time with ten athletes marching homeless. Entering under the flag of the International Olympic Committee and without a country to sponsor them, these refugees illustrated the current state of the world. They also embodied the Olympic spirit, a spirit that Coubertin felt would benefit his country. Their spirit will benefit the world and last night brought us together as one mankind, one people.
The flag bearer of this delegation without homes was a female swimmer Yusra Mardini. She and others escaped the conflict and genocide in her native Syria and arrived in Turkey. From Turkey the sought to reach Greece by boat but the boat’s engine died partway across the dividing waters. Yusra jumped out and swam, pulling the boat and seventeen other refugees. This petite young woman reached the shores of Greece and her journey continued to Macedonia then Munich and eventually Berlin.
Riding in overheated and overcrowded busses and walking distances that would tire a marathon runner after swimming an event equal to those the Olympic weight lifters will endure, Yusra Mardini held onto her dream. This year the IOC announced it would allow refugee athletes to compete under their own International Olympic Committee flag. Companies such as VISA offered to help these athletes reach Rio so that they could compete.
The Opening Ceremonies told the history of Brazil as many countries do when the world’s sports stage comes to their shores. However, Rio showed a ceremony that focused not only on the past but the present and the future. They gave each athlete a seed to plant as they entered the coliseum which was then planted for the future Athletes Forest. Nature has supported us and our life on this planet and while current emissions are putting such support in jeopardy, Rio 2016 planted seeds for the future.
The athletes are winners by virtue of trying but Rio showed us we can all be winners when we come together and work for the real meanings of life. Coubertin believed that the future was possible. “Let us export our oarsmen, our runners, our fencers into other lands. That is the true Free Trade of the future; and the day it is introduced into Europe the cause of Peace will have received a new and strong ally.” He believed the future was in the hands of those who ran a fair race in communion with all. Yusra Mardini said it another way when asked about VISA’s corporate sponsorship. “I think Visa is sending a message” that we “are all human in the end”.
We are all human in the end. Together was can accomplish great things. Together we can make an ordinary present into an extraordinary future. With preparation, forethought and effort, we can create a better tomorrow together.