Sixteen Days of Glory and the Olympic Spirit

It’s that time again, once every two years, the nations compete to see who has the best athletes, this time it’s the Winter Games. As a child nothing on television fascinated me more than the Olympics, except probably for Disney movies. For sixteen days, the Olympics is all that I watched and read. I was glued to the latest news, the medal counts, the human stories, there wasn’t really anything that didn’t grab my imagination and interest, except for the political part of the Games.

When my university announced that it would take part in helping to plan the proposal for the 2012 Dallas Games, I did everything I could to be included in the class, which was a bit harder since I was a freshman and a business major, while partically everyone else was in grad school and had degrees in design, engineering, architecture, etc. But I muddled through not understand a vast majority of the conversations and helped with the public art concept, if there’s something that I understood, it was marketing/advertising and art. Sadly, the questionable levels of pollution in Texas and the lack of water and the lack of public transporation hurt Dallas’s chances and New York won the USOC’s bid, which then lost to London.

For three of the last four Games, I’ve lived in other countries (Morocco for the Athens Games and Korea during the Beijing and now the Vancouver Games) and it’s a much different experience than in the States, mainly because those countries watch sports that Americans don’t tend to watch/participate in and watch them to the end even when something historical is happening. I remember being quite annoyed that while gymnastics history was being made, the first time that the Americans won gold for both men and women’s all-around, the Moroccan channels (all two of them) were only showing boxing, even though all the Moroccan participants had been out for ages. And neither country really checked on other events or did those feel-good featurettes on athletes to watch from other countries, it was all very nationalistic, which is somewhat against the spirit of the Games. So I feel a bit disconnected from the Games, there’s only so much time that I’m willing to spend reading on the Internet, when I could be watching, even in languages that I don’t really understand like on the Eurosports channel and of course the time differences are killing me. Apparently if I want to watch hockey, to watch the greatest hockey tournament in the world, I’ll need to be awake at 2am, it’s like I’m back in Europe trying to watch the NHL.

Now as a grown-up, I still am captivated by the Games but now adult concerns, politics, money, color my perception of the Games. It’s seemingly no longer about representing YOUR country in the Games for the world to see, but representing any country that will accept you. The rule that had been put in place (to my understanding) was for the displaced athletes that were born in countries that no longer existed like the USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, or else under the old rules it would be decades before athletes from the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Croatia, etc. would be able to participate. Case in point if the rule hadn’t been changed, then the Beijing Games (possibly even earlier at the Athens Games or the Turin Games, depending on the rules of each particular sport, but definitely by the Beijing and Vancouver Games) would have been the first time that athletes who were born in those newly formed countries would have been old enough to compete.

But now that rule is being used for someone who isn’t good enough to compete for their home country to compete for another, sometimes the athlete has an actual link to the new country, like Americans Cathy and Chris Reed, who are half-Japanese and competing for Japan because the American figure skating scene is too deep for them to break through. And sometimes there’s no actual link, like Becky Hammon or JR Holden who played for the Russia’s women and men’s basketball teams respectively or the teenage American girl who didn’t want to wait for the London Games to represent the States. Becky Hammon had the argument that she didn’t do anything wrong or greedy, that many athletes that represent the States are naturalized citizens. To be fair she’s right about that, but if you actually read their bios the vast majority of them became citizens when they were children, elementary school age or younger, very few became naturalized citizens as adults or changed their citizenship a year before the Games (most notably the marathon runners).

Also, as an athlete, a person, how does it feel to compete for a country that does not have a long history of immigration or has a history of xenophobia or very likely you know next to nothing about the country and its history and listen to that country’s national anthem. I doubt that it has the same resonance for the athlete as would having the national anthem that they grew up listening to their entire lives being played to introduce them or better yet, when they won a coveted, hard-fought medal.

If I had a truly athletic bone in my body and I was actually good enough to be an Olympian, I could particate for Korea and the States, but really as the last two and a half years have proven for me, in many ways I am more of an American than a Korea. I am definitely more accepted in America, the land of immigrants, the land of different people than in Korea. But I will always be Korean and I will always cheer for Korea in any and all international competitions and events, just like I will for the States.


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