The 2020 Olympic Games have now concluded — in August 2021. After being delayed an entire year, they were, in fact, ultimately held in Japan. The United States came out ahead, both in the gold-medal count and far and away in the number of gold medals. Whether you care about the Olympics or don’t (paging Kyle Smith), America’s victory is worth celebrating.
These games took a circuitous path to completion. The coronavirus continued its reign of uncertainty, first forcing the games out of their planned timetable, then depriving events of spectators. This undoubtedly required adjustments from first-time and veteran competitors alike, in terms of altering training schedules, dealing with new competition environments, and more. The triumphs secured in spite of these obstacles earn a heightened significance in such circumstances.
At times, the domestic discussion of happenings at the games made it appear as though America’s fortunes had plunged into doubt. You can find National Review‘s coverage of the games here, including all of the various takes on Simon Biles’s temporary withdrawing of herself from competition. It is not exactly unusual for the Olympics to take on a political character, in terms of American politics as well as international relations. Past Olympics have seen starker examples in both domestic and foreign dimensions. But the modern media environment can seem to make things more charged.
But whatever your thoughts on these matters, most American athletes are, it turns out, proud to represent their nation in the games. There is certainly something worthwhile, in the abstract, about a venue to determine who in the world is the best at a given athletic pursuit. Yet even though John Lennon’s insipid anthem was, regretfully, present at the opening ceremonies, and even though the games are meant as a venue for international comity, let’s be real: The athletes at these contests represent their respective nations’, and compete on behalf of the same. They are in it for themselves, yes, at least in part. The pursuit of individual glory must be present, to some degree. But there is more to the Olympics than that.
It is quite easy for athletes and spectators alike to get caught up in the Olympics while they are under way. But there is always an after. After some Olympics, venues, built for the one-time affair in the host nation, are abandoned, never to be used again, ghostly reminders of what was. (Sometimes, they can even turn ghastly; the podium of 1984’s Sarajevo Winter Games was later used as a staging ground for executions.) But it’s the athletes who make the games, and our thoughts turn more naturally to them. Some made their debuts in Tokyo this year, experiencing for the first time the thrill of that unique competition. Others were returning. And others were at their last Olympics, whether they knew it or not.
All will certainly be taking some measure of well-deserved race after the games. After the rush of it all, it is, for many, quite the comedown for it to be suddenly all over, for the thing to which all of one’s efforts were geared for years to be at an abrupt end. Post-Olympic depression is real, and it’s understandable even to non-Olympians: Surely many of us have endured a long, intensive labor and seemed adrift upon its completion. Many of these competitors will continue on after this, taking part in the various other contests that occur between games. For whether stung by failure or assuaged by victory, there is something in the human spirit that pushes them onward, toward some ineffable goal. In this, again, these competitors, trained to the peak of their given pursuits, have something in common with us mere mortals.
Something to remember, perhaps, as we await 2024.
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