True Confession: Contrary to the title of this post, these will probably not be my last thoughts on the Olympics. I think about them a lot.
This is our first Olympics since Hunger Games fever swept the nation, since Katniss became a household name and “May the odds be ever in your favor” joined the lexicon. The Games joined the long history of fictional tournaments (Triwizard Tournament anyone?) that color my feelings on international competition and national identity.
When I think about it, really think about it, the whole concept seems pretty medieval. I said that to my friend, and she said, “Duh, Emily, it’s pre-Medieval, it’s literally ancient.” Oh, right. Rather than fuel patriotic fervor in me, this time around I found myself questioning the fundamental unit on which the Games are based: the nation.
I mean, these are just invisible lines drawn in the dirt at some point in the past, right? Invisible lines based on language, religion, skin color, facial features, or distinctions too fine for outsiders to notice. Or, they were based on where the oil was. Or, they were based on back room negotiations by white people who couldn’t give two shits about the finer regional distinctions that go back centuries….
These days, a national identity seems pretty close to arbitrary. British track star Mo Farah was born in Somalia, spent his childhood in Djibouti, is a British citizen, and trains in the United States.
U.S. Women’s basketball coach was born in Italy, a naturalized U.S. citizen. The soccer coach, Pia Sundhage, is Swedish. The volleyball coach is from New Zealand. The gymnastics team is coached by Romanian and Chinese-Americans. Canadian born soccer player Sydney Leroux chose to represent the U.S., making use of her dual citizenship. American-born basketball player Becky Harmon lives in Moscow and recently became a Russian citizen; she represented Russia. Four of the Italian water polo players only recently obtained Italian citizenship in order to compete with that team. And don’t even get me started on the independent athletes whose countries are recently dissolved or too new to support them.
So what exactly does it mean to point at a globe and say, “you’re from this corner, you’re from that corner, now have at it!” if the guy from this corner trains in that guy’s corner, and that guy was born in a different corner all together? Do these distinctions mean anything anymore?
Obviously, I’m viewing this high atop the America-is-a-melting-pot perch, optimistically and naively hoping for the world to blend into one big swirly mess ‘o humanity.
Just to play devil’s advocate with myself (you guys, this is how I have fun), maybe there is something to be said for nominating one person, or one group, and saying “you represent us.” Which “us?” This one, right here, on this island/square of grass/rocky outcrop/bustling metropolis/sprawling city. Did you see the Grenadians lose their shit when Kirani James won their first ever gold? Did it matter to them that he trains in the United States? Botswana, Cyprus, Gabon, Guatemala, Montenegro, Serbia and Bahrain (a female runner, no less) all won their first medals as wel. I guess that’s pretty neat.
Related Post: Remember that abc show about Olympic gymnasts?