Going for the Gold

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The Psychological Impact of the Olympic Games

Choosing Olympic inspiration over Olympic complaints

The Olympic Games began as a competition between athletes and warriors representing the city-states and kingdoms of Ancient Greece. What made the Olympics a revolutionary and inspiring invention was that for their duration, a truce was called on the field of battle and wars between the participating peoples were literally put on hold until the games concluded.

As a child growing up in the war-torn city of Jerusalem in Israel, the concept of warring nations ceasing hostilities so their top athletes could compete in the spirit of sportsmanship was one I found captivating and incredibly powerful. Despite the events of the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Palestinian terrorists slaughtered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, and despite the boycotts of the 1980 and the 1984 games, the Olympics continue to embody the spirit of peace and world unity more than any other global event, athletic or otherwise.

The Olympic Games are an opportunity for citizens and governments around the world to remember that humanity can collectively rise above politics and war, that heroism can be measured by dedication, effort, and perseverance, that sometimes tiny countries can rival global superpowers, and that the achievements of a single individual can have the power to unify their countrymen in hope for peace and new beginnings.

For example, 2008 gold medalist Wilfred Bungei issued a call to his fellow Kenyans to use the London Olympics to reduce ethnic tensions and increase unity among his fellow citizens, "When the national flag rises above others, and the national anthem is sung, all Kenyans sing along. That is the spirit that we need to cultivate among Kenyans and for posterity."

Unfortunately, the media rarely focuses on the global inspirational message the Olympic Games embody, favoring comparatively petty complaints and scandals instead such as the ‘scandal’ of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team uniforms being manufactured in China or whether team USA's 2014 uniforms could be entered in an 'ugly sweater contest'.

We would do well to remember that when the world comes together for the games of the thirtieth Olympiad not just athletic performance and national pride will be on display—we will also witness fifteen days of rare global unity. The Olympic Games are the kind of event that could have a worldwide psychological impact. If we focus on what truly makes the Games unique, on what has always made them unique, it would surely inspire a new generation of global citizens to preserve this unity of human spirit even once the Olympic torch is doused.

Copyright 2012 Guy Winch

Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch

Going for the Gold