Friday, August 08, 2008

The Olympics: Lessons in Life

The XXIX 2008 Summer Olympic Games, opens today on the 08-08-08 in Beijing, China in a few hours time. Depending on how you look at it, the general feedback would probably range from the widely expected "Wah! So fantastic one!" to the not exactly thrilled "So what?"

In any case, in terms of tv coverage, I don't think that we Malaysians have ever had it so good. During the past couple of weeks, Astro in particular, has been overly generous in broadcasting rare footage of past Olympiads. On no less than 10 dedicated channels. Now, I am not much of the typical Olympic fan myself but watching these re-runs of the past, I was reminded of a few things.

Like the proverbial "katak di bawah tempurong", I found out things about the games and the athletes that I never knew about! I couldn't help noticing that beyond the hype, rhetoric and glamor, there lay a common thread that ran and continues to run through this mother of all sporting events. It's the continuing saga of the enduring human spirit.

I was blown away by the sheer endurance of athletes who had to overcome all sorts of obstacles in order to pursue their dreams. Like the Cuban Ana Quirot, once the world's fastest woman over both the 400 and 800 meters, who had to overcome the trauma of suffering 40% burns on her face and upper body and losing her 7 month baby in a freak kitchen accident. She not only recovered but came back in the 1996 Atlanta Games to secure a silver medal in the 800 meters.

People like Abebe Bikila, the unknown soldier from Ethiopia, who by winning the 1960 Games' marathon event, running barefoot and in a record time, established the beginning of the reign of the African athlete in the Olympics. He repeated the feat in Tokyo in 1964, becoming the first person to do so, just six weeks after an appendicitis operation and was among the leaders in the 1968 Games when he had to pull out through injury. Though a horrific car accident later that year paralyzed him from the waist below, Abebe continued to don his nations colors in other sports and won a 25 km cross-country sledge competition in Norway in 1970.

Wilma Rudolph, born of a poor family right in the middle of the Great Depression, the 2oth of 22 children, not only was diagnosed with polio at the age of seven, but even earlier had been nursed through measles, mumps, scarlet fever, chicken pox and pneumonia by her mum. Incredibly, she became a high school basketball star before graduating to track and field. She won 3 gold medals in Rome in 1960 in the 100, 200 and 4x100 meter dashes. Her achievements helped break gender barriers in then all-male track and field events.

Tremendous achievements in the face of immense problems. What about us? What about me? What about this country? Are our obstacles as seemingly insurmountable as those faced by Ana, Abebe and Wilma? If true, then we are in good company! Like them, we too can overcome whatever is obstructing us from achieving our hopes and dreams. Like them though, we may first need to sacrifice something in order that to gain that something even greater.

"Some men see things as they are and say why - I dream things that never were and say why not." - George Bernard Shaw.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Abebe Bikila (1933-1973) and Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994).