In a few days, hundreds of the world's best athletes will gather in Sochi, Russia to participate in this year's pinnacle of international sport: the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Yet, if those athletes accomplish the full intent of the spirit of the Games' statement of belief (the Olympic Creed), it will merely result in a celebration of mutual participation and their common struggle on the field of competition.
Every podium appearance, every personal record and every attainment of the crowning Olympic achievement—the gold medal—will simply fall to secondary status.
With that sobering thought in mind, let's have a look at the Olympic Creed:
The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
Pierre de Coubertin, considered the father of the modern Olympics, instituted the Olympic Creed shortly after the 1908 Games, probably as an official outline for the peaceful gathering of the many divergent societies and cultures of that time.
Beyond the apparently noble sentiments of this guiding declaration, the emphasis seems to point toward something beneath Olympic ideals: "...not to win...not the triumph...not to have conquered..."
In fact, it is eerily similar to the objectives of a movement creeping into modern sports (at the critical youth level) which seeks to equalize all participants by discrediting the notion of winning and losing.
This goes against our innate competitive human spirit and against the fundamental impulse within us to resolve the tension which competition creates. Human beings seek a sense of finality and have a need to know how things stand when the dust settles.
There are those who argue that the competitive nature is merely primal, animalistic aggression. But the critical elements which separate us from the animals are the virtues of honor and respect. Champions who have vanquished their opponents to claim victory have not automatically checked their sense of decency at the entrance to the arena.
Even the apostle Paul equates the path of life to a vigorous race: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run but only one obtains the prize? Run in such a way as to win!"*
Fortunately, most athletes are unaware of, or have simply ignored the credo and do what comes naturally—strive to beat the other guy(s). To have participated in a civil manner with other great athletes from around the world is the appetizer, not the main course.
Any athlete who has invested in the discipline and training required to reach the elite level is not focused on "taking part" or "fighting well". With the added distractions of possible terrorism and the looming socio-political agendas surrounding Sochi 2014, that sacrifice becomes even more precious and is worthy of nothing less than a reasonable shot at winning.
Mount Olympus, the namesake of the Olympic Games, is the highest point in Greece. It is no accident that this edifice was chosen to symbolize the highest standard of achievement in global sport.
Let the politicians, theologians and philosophers debate the merits of societal niceties.
In the world of sport, winning is the objective.
* (1 Corinthians 9:24)
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