The showcase event in every Olympics is the Opening Ceremony. This year’s was a true spectacle involving athletes and the 5,000 volunteers who had been working for months to perfect the show, which was the precise mix of art and sport. It was truly remarkable.
Led by Lisa Delpy-Neirotti, GW’s director of sports management, 32 of the University’s best and brightest spent 10 days studying and absorbing the 19th Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Several of us had the chance to attend the Opening Ceremony.
Every Opening Ceremony is going to be somewhat patriotic in nature, because it’s a great honor to host the games. But the Salt Lake Organizing Committee went too far. They may have forgotten the fine line between Olympic spirit and pure jingoism. In addition to the “Americanism” that every television viewer saw, there was one more incident I would like to call attention to, one you didn’t see.
Everyone knows singing the National Anthem is how professional sporting events begin in this country. The Opening Ceremony in Salt Lake was no exception. Except that all 50,000 of us spectators sang “America the
Beautiful” a mere half-hour earlier, before NBC’s cameras were rolling. One national song would have been standard and acceptable, but two was overkill.
The anthem was accompanied by the presentation of the World Trade Center American flag, the same one presented at the World Series. As an American, this combination was incredibly moving. But it wasn’t standard fair at such an international event. It seemed to say that even though terrorism occurs every day in some parts of the globe, we only recognize it when it hits home. Plenty of horrific events have transpired in the world since the Sydney games that could have been mourned. But as always, we chose to focus on ours.
In my mind, a much better Opening Ceremony was before the 1996 Atlanta Games. Muhammed Ali lit the torch that signaled the beginning of the 23rd Summer Olympics.
Who will light the torch is often a substantial decision because of its international prestige and worldwide honor. It’s always kept a secret to build suspense. Ali was a great choice because of his connection to the United States, the host country, and to its international guests because of the tremendous impact he has had on the world. Aside from being a former gold medalist, he was also an avid civil rights activist when the world needed one.
Unfortunately, this year’s choice was not so politically correct. Choosing the 1980 United States gold medal winning men’s hockey team would have been a great choice had the event been an American showcase. But remember, it wasn’t.
International means inclusion of everyone. Selecting the hockey team was not only a tremendous slap in the face to the Russians (who were noticeably unhappy as the flame was lit), but to the other 10 countries that participated in men’s hockey that year.
The United States did not invent the Olympics, and the Olympics are not uniquely American. The United States is just one of 202 countries recognized by the International Olympic Committee. But our country didn’t act like it.
Not to sounds like a Ringhead, the common term for an Olympics junkie, but my trip convinced me that I am a great fan of the competition and camaraderie that the Olympic spirit stands for.