"Gold shines like fire blazing in the night, supreme of lordly wealth.
But if you want to celebrate greatness and games -- oh my soul, you'll
find no brighter star in the vastness of space than the sun, no contest
more glorious than Olympia." Pindar (518 B.C.-438 B.C.) in his First
Ode to Olympia.
Every four years from 776 B.C. to 393 A.D. men from all over the Greek
world competed in athletic events and worshipped the gods at the
sanctuary of Olympia. The athletes competed, not for money or material
goods, but only for an olive wreath and the honor of being an Olympic
Some 2000 years later, 10 thousand athletes, nearly half of them
women, from 200 nations gathered in Sydney for the XXVII Modern
Olympiad. They competed for gold rather than olive wreaths, but
probably most would agree with Pindar that "no contest more glorious
NBC 's TV coverage was terrible, irritating and offensive to both men
and women. There were a couple of major scandals, the drug problem is
getting worse and some of the athletes behaved badly. But in spite of
it all, the gold still shines. Time Magazine said, "Sport at its
highest level is a pure rush to the edge of human capability. How often
do we get to watch mankind at its absolute best? By watching athletes
like Marion Jones, Michael Johnson and Ian Thorpe push out the
boundaries of human achievement, don't we also grow a little bit?"
The early games consisted of a single foot race the length of the
stadium. In the XXVII Modern Olympiad, there were 300 events.
In the Greek Olympiad men competed nude. Women were not allowed to
watch the games, but not because of the uniforms of the athletes.
Rather it was because Olympia was dedicated to Zeus and was therefore a
sacred area for men. But even then they couldn't keep a mother from
watching her kid. Callipatria broke the rules after her husband's
death, and trained her son for the boxing match. In order to watch the
match she put on trainer gear, a special long robe. When her son won,
she leaped over the barrier separating the athletes from the trainers,
but unfortunately her jump revealed a lot more than her enthusiasm.
Result: thereafter trainers also had to participate nude.
Customs change, but mothers don't. 2000 years later a Kansas mother
sold her small house to get enough money to travel to Sydney to see her
daughter play on the American softball team. And they won the gold!
Today's athletes, both men and women, seem to be approaching the ancient
Greek costume. But they have spent years developing those beautiful
bodies, and have every right to be proud of them. From the tiny,
flying gymnasts to the huge Greco-Roman wrestlers grunting and
straining as they seem to dance together, they have developed muscles
where I didn't know muscles existed. They have pushed strength and
coordination almost to the limit of human ability. And they are
beautiful, all of them.
We all have our favorite sports. I especially like the foot races.
Before the wheel, before aircraft, there was running. When Maurice
Green runs his feet scarcely seem to touch the ground. Watching Marion
Jones run is pure joy, as is her face when the race is over. With
three golds and two bronze medals she is the outstanding American woman
Gymnasts fly through the air and do things with their bodies that
surely no human can do. Swimmers cut through the water like seals.
Then there are the team contests, where I am, of course, prejudiced. I
was sad to see the Dream Team - that wonderful women's soccer team - win
the silver instead of the gold. But on the last day the American
women's basketball team beat the Australians on their home court to
bring home the gold.
From my couch some 8000 miles away I have had a wonderful two weeks.
For all the flaws and commercialism of this Olympiad, I must agree with
Pindar, " ...oh my soul, you'll find no brighter star in the vastness of
space than the sun, no contest more glorious than Olympia."