There’s nothing like utter Olympic domination to throw shade on the prevailing idea (prevailing amongst opportunistic know-nothings, that is) that “(the US) is weak and ineffective” “our enemies are eating our lunch” and “nobody respects us.” Seriously, was there ever anything as powerfully demonstrative of the superiority of openness, meritocracy and diversity as the 2016 Olympic games?
With thanks to Alex Goldstein’s insightful Politico article, and Piedmonter Kathleen O’Brien for posting it, it has become increasingly clear from events in Rio that Team USA’s performance might drive yet another nail into the coffin of Donald “Crippled America” Trump. What’s ‘crippled’ about a total medal count that nearly doubled the nearest competing country? There was so much winning, we were almost getting tired of winning, except all this winning was coming from a team chock full of– gasp – Muslims (Ibtihaj Muhammad), Mexicans (Jackie Galloway, Nico Hernandez, Sarah Robles) and other assorted ‘marginal Americans’. Forty seven of Team USA’s 550+ athletes were immigrants. Even tweet-happy billionaires with ADD couldn’t help but notice that the parade of gorgeous, gifted athletes that delighted us every night for most of August hailed from every ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and family background imaginable.
Is it just my middle-aged memory, or is it a fact that during the Olympics of my youth, those halcyon Reagan/Bush-era years that conservatives can’t seem to move past, we’d watch the medal board anxiously every night to see who would come out on top? And that often the US didn’t come out on top? Or even in second? Sure, in ’84 we dominated, but don’t forget that was a boycott year; many of the top competitors weren’t even competing. In 1988, we came in third, behind the Soviet Union and East Germany. Can Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton (or political correctness, gay people, ‘uppity women’s libbers,’ Muslims, or Mexicans) be blamed for that one?
All kidding aside, many of us are suckers for the Olympics precisely because of the thrilling athleticism and fascinating back-stories of the bright young Americans from all walks of life. We swell with pride because they win, but even more so because the dedication they display and the obstacles they overcome are precisely what make us all ‘winners.’ Setting aside the medal count (and, sadly, entitled swimmers and rude soccer players), the glory of the Olympics is watching the raw pageantry and spectacle of athletes completely unlike you achieving their own version of the American Dream.
Those dreams aren’t strictly American. Did anyone else see Monica Puig, born in Puerto Rico and playing under their flag, win that country’s first ever gold medal? Puig, essentially unheard of on the pro circuit, was the first unseeded player to ever medal in the Olympic games. Puerto Rico is having a tough summer. During the match, the announcers reported that the country had come to a virtual standstill to watch her play. Watching her win her final point, absorbing the crowds chanting “si se puede” (yes you can) and then sink to her knees in disbelief and joy – that’s what the Olympics are about.
With the constant drumbeat of looming catastrophe we’ve been subject to for the past year, some of us seem to need a reminder that America is great. How nice of those swimmers, runners, tumblers, rowers, riders, fencers, hitters and more to provide one with such style.