The Olympics are a wonderful thing. They start with strange mascots, oily Tongan muscle men, and Gisele Bundchen walking across a stadium in a moment that I’m still trying to understand as “significant”. She was just walking, right? Then there are all the sports. When else can you flip between ping pong- er, I mean table tennis- and badminton, later tuning into handball and archery? And in between there are all the feel-good stories, like this one about a Brazilian penguin:
The Olympics provide a glorious two weeks of entertainment and inspiration. Both for the athletes and for people like me who are couch-ridden with a hamstring strain. I’m definitely in need of a dose of inspiration, and if you are, too, hopefully you’ve been tuning in. Because Rio has been full of inspiration.
I’m sorry, though, if you were expecting another Michael Phelps tribute because you won’t find it here. He doesn’t inspire me at all. I’m not inspired by his showboating after wins–you know, those five-finger flashes or his I’m-number-one smirks–or his name-dropping Ray Lewis in his final post-race interview. I’m not inspired by this Maryland boy’s fiancee from Plastic Barbie, California either. (Anyone wonder where the sisters are at this Olympics? Guess they got pushed out by the more marketable “love” of his life.) And honestly, I’m not impressed with his Costco haul of Olympic medals. Sorry, not impressed.
You see, if you can manage to step on your tippy-toes and see around all the Phelps Hoopla, there’s a whole collection of stories being told at this Olympics. Stories of real inspiration:
There’s American marathoner Desiree Linden who said this after finishing 7th, “I put everything out there. I’m not upset at all. I wish I were a little bit better. I wish I would have been closer. But we went all in. And that’s as good as I am.” She’s happy to be as good as she is. Even if it’s 7th place. We need more role models like Desiree. And then what about last place finisher Ly Nary from Cambodia who finished nearly an hour after the winner? She’s a scientist, not even a professional athlete, and she finished the Olympic marathon. 24 others did not even finish. And the best part…she celebrated her accomplishment.
How about 400m participant Maryan Muse from Somalia? She ran a time of 1:10:14 in her heat. The camera couldn’t even keep her in the frame because she was so far behind. But lacking the comforts that say, Michael Phelps, enjoys, it’s an inspiration just to see her on the track in Rio. Read her story here.
More inspiration came from Equestrian. Dutch rider Adelinde Cornelissen quit the Olympics out of concern for her horse. The horse fell ill from an insect bite. Though he was cleared to go, she could sense something was wrong and quit mid-ride. And she’s no “participant.” She’s a silver and bronze medalist from London. Clearly, though, her heart is already made of gold as she said this, “In the arena he felt totally empty and I decided not to continue. He did not deserve this,” she continued. “In order to protect him, I gave up … My buddy, my friend, the horse that has given everything for me his whole life does not deserve this … So I saluted and left the arena.”
There has been a ton of inspiration in the pool. But most inspirational to me belongs to Missy Franklin. She’s had a terrible Olympics. But she’s kept smiling and cheering on her teammates even while admitting to crying in the dark private moments of her Olympic Village home. Courage is putting on a brave face when everything inside you screams otherwise. That’s more inspirational than any gold medal.
No group has probably been more maligned by host NBC than the US men’s gymnastics team. NBC finally gave them some TV minutes when team member Alex Naddour won a bronze medal on pommel horse. Because that’s how most people are…what can you do for me? No medal = no interest. For NBC it was just another TV medal moment. But for Alex Naddour, it looked like so much more. He missed out on the Olympics last year, and it’s been his goal for four years to get here. He performed the routine of his life and earned a bronze medal. And his tears showed just how meaningful that one medal is.
There have been so many more inspirational moments. Gymnasts Aly Raisman and Simone Biles walking hand-in-hand during a meet in which they were battling each other. The Norwegian wrestler who was dog-piled by his coaches as he won a bronze medal. A 41-year-old gymnast. Golfer Matt Kuchar’s effusive pride at finishing third. The USA men’s doubles team winning the bronze and being so excited that they get to wear the medal-ceremony jackets.
The Olympics are full of inspiration and reminders of what sport is all about, and this year it’s no different. You can be sure when I return to running and Crossfit, I’ll be thinking of Desiree Linden or Missy Franklin or the triumph of some Norweigian man named Stig-Andre Berge. They are the true athletic heroes who should be celebrated and plastered all over our primetime televisions.
(Share with me some of your favorite inspirational moments!)