IT’S easy to be cynical about the Olympics: about the runaway commercialism; about the jingoism that so many countries bring to the games; about NBC. Definitely about NBC. Its breathless degree of fake suspense during prime time broadcasts has been a silly mockery of our wired ways, and too many on-the-spot interviews with athletes redefined dippy. How do you feel? Jubilant if you’ve medaled, crushed if you haven’t and really, really tired. Fill in the blanks.

But you know what? It’s just as easy to be sappy about the Olympics. In fact it’s a whole lot easier. Because for all their flaws and frustrations, they’ve been a phenomenal spectacle. More than that, they’ve been a phenomenal inspiration, in precisely the ways that they were supposed to be, during a season when we needed the uplift. Amid bullets in Colorado and Wisconsin, vitriol on the campaign trail, ominously scorching heat and serious questions about whether we can and will rise to the challenges before us, the Olympics have affirmed that human potential is just about infinite and that the human soul is good. They’ve presented two solid weeks of parables, most of which underscored the great rewards possible when great risk is taken and the prospect of glory on the far side of sacrifice.