The Sunday Magazine: The 2016 Summer Olympics

Every four years in the final weeks of summer I end up spending a lot of time indoors watching some of the greatest athletes in the world compete. I also end up getting very little sleep because coverage goes very late in to the night.

It has been this way for as long as I can remember. Back in 1968 in the Mexico City Olympics I remember watching Tommie Smith and John Carlos thrust their black gloved hands up ward in a clenched fist. In 1972 the horrific terrorist attack in Munich. The bombing in Atlanta in 1996. Every time these things happened they hurt me because I have loved the ideal behind the Olympics of nations competing together every four years instead of fighting with each other.

As I write this the first week of the Rio Olympics have finished. I’ve watched the greatest swimmer of all-time, Michael Phelps, prove that talent can overcome age. I may have watched the rise of the woman who will steal that title from him in Katie Ledecky. There were two swimmers who competed in nearly every event representing their countries; Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu and Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom. They won some and they lost some but they were seemingly always in the pool.

This picture released by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games shows the emblem of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 31, 2010. A multidisciplinary evaluation commission, formed by 12 professionals enjoying domestic and international recognition, was involved in the whole process of the emblem selection. (AP Photo/Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games )This picture released by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games shows the emblem of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 31, 2010. A multidisciplinary evaluation commission, formed by 12 professionals enjoying domestic and international recognition, was involved in the whole process of the emblem selection. (AP Photo/Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games )[/caption]

Gymnastics saw another athlete perform above and beyond her peers. Simone Biles showed she has taken gymnastics and evolved it to a new more athletic level. The challenge will be for the next generation to catch up. The last generation was also represented by Aly Raisman who felt the heartbreak of losing a bronze medal four years ago in the women’s all-around to come back and win silver this year. It is more impressive because at her age she is supposed to be too old to be out there. She is affectionately called “grandma” by the rest of the team; at the age of 22.

Gymanstics also provided one of my favorite moments so far. During the gymnastics team competition Laurie Hernandez was standing next to the balance beam waiting for the signal to begin her routine. The cameras were close enough to hear her whisper to herself “I got this.” Then she jumped up onto that narrow beam of wood and nailed her routine. It is these moments for the lesser known athletes that keep me coming back every four years.

I had tears in my eyes watching Simone Manuel as the first African-American swimmer to win an individual gold medal have it draped around her neck. Even more impressive to me was her ability to understand the potential impact it will have. In the end I think it is that which typifies the Olympic spirit. As athletes win and inspire the next generation to aspire to take their place. That’s why I’m bleary eyed and smiling until these Rio games end.

Mark Behnke

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