It is a word that has been used a lot over the last year and a half. It has been added to slogans. It is softly spoken to us in radio advertisements. It is plastered on large canvases, which we cannot possibly miss.
We are in this together. You have heard that sentence. No one needs to ask what this is referring to. We know.
At times, it has felt overdone and cliché. Are we really in this together, or is that eight-letter word merely a marketing tool, meant to pacify our fears and appeal to our longing to once again feel connected to the people we have not been able to see?
I do not know. I just ask the rhetorical questions.
What I do know is that sport has the power to bring people together. I know this because I have experienced it. It is the shared jubilation, or heartbreak, between you and your friends, or you and the stranger sitting next to you at the ballpark.
Heck, it can also connect you with the athlete via empathy, or fandom.
Sport is a universal language that needs no translation. It reaches in and pulls out your deepest emotions. It makes you feel and sometimes scream. It makes you cry, both happy and sad tears. It makes you care about something outside yourself and takes your mind off of life, if only for a few moments.
That is what sport can do. That is why I love the Olympics.
The flame has gone out on the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. Many did not think it should have been lit in the first place. Tokyo was, and still is, under a state of emergency.
Many looked at it as putting the business of sport above the health and safety of human beings. It is a fair point.
Whether you agreed with the decision or not, the Olympics happened.
The circumstances were not ideal. There were no fans. There were no families. There were no (insert 100 more items here).
There were only athletes, coaches, and Olympic committee representatives from 206 countries. Together. In empty arenas and stadiums.
Think of the years of training. Think of the years of dreaming to be on the Olympic stage and once you get there, the lights are on, but no one is home.
The friendly blend of a local and international audience was nowhere to be seen. The seats were empty. The roar of the crowd was missing. Everything was almost too quiet.
However, dare I say, the Olympic spirit was alive.
This does not apply to everyone, but there is something about the Olympics that renews my love for sport.
Perhaps, it is the camaraderie and sportsmanship among competitors. Perhaps, it is the athlete with an underdog story, who is finally able to overcome all the odds. Perhaps, it is the raw emotion on the faces of athletes and how easy it is to see how much they care.
That brings me to the Olympic creed. It is a quote by Baron de Coubertin, who was the founder of the International Olympic Committee, otherwise known as the father of the modern Olympic Games.
“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.”
Remember when your parents used to say that it does not matter if you win or lose, it is how you play the game? Turns out, they were on to something.
Of course, we celebrate the victories of the men and women who bring home medals for our country. That is a given.
But we also celebrate the struggle. We feel for the Olympian who gave it their all, but missed the podium. We feel for the Olympian who cries in front of the camera and thinks they owe us an apology.
Sometimes, athletes and teams are looking for redemption – a chance to rewrite their ending.
Sport is so much more than what the scoreboard says. It is the stories that we cling to because they are a reminder that these elite level athletes are still human, like us.
Danielle Lawrie was on the Canadian softball team that finished 4th at the Olympics in 2008, and retired in 2014, only to come out of retirement in 2017 and make one final push for an Olympic medal. All while having two young kids at home.
She did it. She trained for four years, with the goal of playing six games in Tokyo. Lawrie recorded the final strikeout for Canada as they defeated Mexico to win the bronze medal.
The Canadian women’s soccer team won a bronze medal at each of the last two Summer Olympics. It was no longer satisfying. As the 8th ranked team in the world, they had to defeat Brazil (#7) in the quarter-final, USA (#1) in the semi-final, and Sweden (#5) in the final.
They did it. They changed the colour of their medal. A moment that you could say was nine years in the making, but it was so much longer than that.
Mo Ahmed, a Canadian long-distance runner, won a silver medal in the 5000m race. His turning point came at the World Championships in 2019, where he won bronze. After that race, he talked about being disappointed with all the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th place finishes.
“I’m not going to be a passenger”, he said. He was going to run his own race and make his own moves. What a powerful mantra, I think. “I’m not going to be a passenger.” Incredible.
When the Dutch runner, Sifan Hassan, fell to the ground on the last lap of the 1500m preliminary heat and dropped to the back of the field, she got up and won the race. From that moment on, I was cheering for her.
When the great, Simone Biles, returned to competition for the beam final and won bronze, I had tears in my eyes. I am not afraid to admit it. That was as powerful a sporting moment as I have ever seen. I was so happy for her.
That is the power of the Olympics. You go into it cheering for your country to succeed and win all the medals, but along the way, you find yourself rooting for athletes from other countries because they are human, too.
Whether you can relate to their struggle, or just want to see them overcome the obstacles in front of them, it is hard not to support them.
That is when sport brings people together.
There is always an us vs. them mentality built into every competition, but when you can cross over the line and also support them…when you can empathize with those not on your “team”, that is when the word, “Together” actually starts to mean something.
“Together” was a feeling, not a slogan.
That is what I take away from Tokyo 2020.
Look, it was never going to be perfect. People will still have their valid complaints. Japan never got to show-off its country the way it wanted to. The list of regrets is long.
However, I do think some good came out of these Olympics. How long will that “good” last outside the Olympic bubble? I am not sure.
Before I end this, I want to mention the 51,672 volunteers who, by all accounts, made a positive impact on the athletes and media members who were in Tokyo. It would have been easy for them to back out and stay home – many did – but there they were exhibiting the best qualities of their country and giving outsiders a glimpse into what Japan, its people, and culture, have to offer.
They should be very proud.
And now, we go back to life without the Olympics on TV every hour of the day.
Personally, I will be in a post-Olympic malaise for a few days, as I am already finding it weird that I will not have some sort of diving event to stay up late to watch at 2am.
If anyone needs me, I will be thinking about all the Olympic events I would be terrible at.