To love the Olympics, one must forget the crass commercialism, the excruciating hype and the manipulated emotion. So I am forgetting all of it — at least through the Closing Ceremonies.
I love the Olympics for two reasons: one from the head, another from the heart. The first reason took me a long time to figure out because I was distracted by a fog of Olympian rhetoric about the brotherhood of sport. “The goal of the Olympic Movement,” according to an IOC website, “is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
Eventually, I realized that in a world in which peace and friendship are elusive, the Olympics serve an important role as a valve to vent international conflict. The French nobleman Pierre de Coubertin created the modern Olympics out of his dismay at the weakness of his countrymen in their brief 1870 war with Prussia. His athletic festival would be war without the carnage, testing athlete against athlete — but also nation against nation. There was nothing pacific about the baron’s admonition that “the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”