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  • Writer's pictureChristopher McHale

We Light The Olympic Torch In A Changed World

I used to dream of being in the Olympics. As a teen, I started running long-distance. Every day it was my favorite time of day, putting on my shoes and running for hours, getting lost in cities, across bridges, through parks, down market lanes and hidden alleys. I dreamed.

My dreams were of competitions against runners from all over the globe, measuring myself against others. I never thought I was the best. I just wanted to experience running with the best; to feel their energy, their perfection of the human form.

That’s the enchantment of the Olympic dream. What limits can humans exceed? How far, how high, how fast can we go?

If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success. James Cameron

We give out medals to the winners, but the Olympic ideal is in failure. I’ve always believed that. When the winners cross the finish line I watch the losers, hands on thighs, bent over, sucking for air, but not with a shattered dream, at least I don’t see it that way. They’ve pushed their limits. They went as fast, as far, as high as they could go; inspiration for all of us.

That’s my romance with the Olympics, winter and summer, watching the best of us. What astounding physical feat will we witness?

I’ve had to fight through layers of commodification to keep my dream in tact. Rolls of tone-deaf broadcasters droning on and on about everything but the Games at hand. Dictators preening for the cameras, posing on podiums built of human suffering. The white-washing of history, the false pride of anthems, the need to cheat to win, to score endorsements and turn metal into cash, a sick alchemy of entitlement, deals, and exploitation.

I’ve fought through all of it because I still thrill to the triumphs and defeat. I still need to witness the achievements. But 2021 is a different world.

A global pandemic kills 5 million. The roaring Climate Crisis sweeps across the desert cities of LA, Las Vegas, Phoenix, sweeps away towns along the Meuse in Germany, scorches the Pacific-Northwest.

We’re born from the world, not into it. Much as the ocean creates waves, the planet earth creates people. Alan Watts.

There’s no pretense left for me. I can’t hide from the truth crashing down on us. Our Olympic spirit is lit in defiance of the suffering around us, growing at an alarming rate. Our need for distraction is a weak excuse. The glory of human achievement rings hollow. The 100-meter dash has all the relevance of a billionaire blasting into space.

The Olympics of my dreams now must award medals to the activists and scientists, poets and prophets. The flags of nations only serve to remind us of differences we can no longer abide. The only anthem that needs to be sung is a song to our shared humanity.

I didn’t see my shift in perspective coming. I’m not sure many did. But something about COVID-19 changed the world. We lost something.

There’s a rush to put those pandemic days behind us, but the rush is mainly by corporations and politicians anxious to return to ledgers of infinite profit and national power. For the rest of us, we need a time out, a reset.

Barely 20% of Japanese citizens favor staging the games, but no matter their rattled fear; announcers will gush, flags wave, and athletes will win; jets will fly, carbon will burn, checks will be cashed.

The entire affair feels bankrupt, morally corrupt and dangerously delusional. Most of us watch our mountains burn and our rivers flood and wonder how much we have to lose before we understand the great risk we face. There is no medal for a dying world, and no dignity in our ultimate defeat. What are we doing? Where is the real race? What happens when we cross the finish line?

I can’t dismiss the grace and will of the athletes; the arc of perfection, the triumph, the beat, the dance, the vault, the swing, the race, the release, but the dream is bittersweet.

I want to embrace them all, every runner, tumbler, boarder, and player. Embrace them as champions of humanity, and ask these brights sparks to lead us back from the brink. Take our last shot for us with their great skill and perfect aim. Because their dreams are our best dreams, and it is well past time for our best dreams.


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