Searching For The Olympic Soul

Josh LewisSenior Analyst IAugust 25, 2008

Another Olympiad has come and gone, and with its passing comes a significant let-down for sport fanatics. But they aren't the only observers who felt a great rush of disappointment as the Beijing Games came to a close on Sunday.

Legions of people who couldn't care less about who wins the Stanley Cup or the World Series will now return to the drudgery of everyday life. They can't help but feel a small void in their souls, a little hole that for the past two weeks had been lit up by the wonder and amazement of the Olympic Games.

Butchers and secretaries, sales managers and teachers, doctors and carpenters. For 17 days, the world's best captivated them all. Even the stereotypical housewife, who'd rather watch her soaps while her husband is forced to catch the ball game in the basement, is reeled in every four years.

What is it about these Games, this collection of athletic pursuits that would normally bore most people, that demands attention? Why does a working person, who routinely falls asleep on the couch during Hockey Night in Canada, feel the need to get up two hours early so they can watch a Norwegian shotputter go for the world record?

The Olympic spirit means something different for every person watching at home. It is plain to see, yet impossible to capture; complex and yet so simple.

The Olympic Games are the ultimate test of character and dedication. It requires a truly special person to put in four long years of pain, endurance and hardship. Only the most committed and hard-working souls are able to keep pushing their limits, to squeeze out one more lap, one more stroke, one more lift, even as their muscles cry out for respite.

And when the inevitable setbacks begin to claw into the psyche, only those blessed with incredible mental toughness are able to dig deep, find that ounce of resilience in their inner reserves, and bounce back.

When we witness an athlete standing atop the podium donning a newly-won medal and basking in the patriotic glow of town and country, we see the pinnacle of achievement. But we can't possibly know the journey of enduring sacrifice, hard work, and excruciating heartbreak. We don't see what that swimmer or long-distance runner has learned about themselves, or how they have grown as a person.

Simply put, the Olympics reveal just how much we are capable of—as athletes, as competitors and as human beings.

Aside from witnessing incredible sporting feats, it's the stories and legends of the Olympics that keep bringing me back for more. I can't help but tear up to see Eric Lamaze, a man who has overcome so much personal hardship, reach the pinnacle of sporting success.

Then there's the Canadian men's eights rowing squad, which was devastated by a fifth-place finish in Athens and vowed to spend every waking hour of the next four years working toward a gold medal and personal redemption in Beijing. I feel privileged to have witnessed them receiving their shiny new hardware on a sunny afternoon at Shunyi, belting out Oh Canada and knowing, deep down inside, that they had achieved something truly exceptional.

Why do the Olympic Games hold such a dear place in our hearts? Because they transcend sport. They tell an extraordinary tale of perseverance, sacrifice, determination, disappointment and jubilation.

In sports, as in life, all are road signs on the path to success.