Friday, April 11, 2008
The Olympic Torch Relay
The Olympic torch relay made its only North American stop on Wednesday, in San Francisco. (Hey! It's OK, it's not like anybody comes here for the news)
Because protesters disrupted the relay in London and Paris (where they pretty much shut it down), authorities in San Francisco changed the route at the last minute, trying to keep it away from the protesters.
What were they protesting? Students for a Free Tibet, among others, were speaking out about China's human rights record. This is a topic that needs attention and conversation. I agree that the Olympics provide a platform to address this important issue.
(After all, my brother was detained by the police in China when he was living there! That'll have to be a post for another day.)
But I couldn't help thinking about the relay runners.
These Americans had been selected for the honor of carrying the Olympic flame, which symbolizes peace and unity between nations, on part of its journey around the world in preparation for the Beijing Games this summer. And their loved ones were there to watch them run by, on the originally planned route.
When I was 11, the Olympics were in Los Angeles. We had lots of relatives staying at our house, attending the Games, and we went to events every day. I saw Mary Lou Retton win her gold medals, and my brother saw Carl Lewis win his - among many others! We saw a city come together and welcome all nations, even lightening up the traffic for the occasion. My 7-year-old brother traded pins with people visiting from around the world. Our parents did not want us to miss out on this experience! The first Olympic Games I remember was the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, on television. And only 6 months later, I was witnessing the volleyball and gymnastics live!
My father taught me about the history of the Games, and the great athletic achievements that had taken place. My young mind reeled at the idea of countries putting aside their differences to compete and respect each other through athletic competition. I make it an event to watch the Games every two years (now; they changed it and I have to get used to change). For me, it's appointment television for two solid weeks.
When the Olympic Torch Relay came through Orange County, my parents drove us out to some random intersection in the orange groves to stand along the side of the road with many other spirited people and see that flame go by. It was dusk, and that flame was beautiful. The runner was beautiful.
In 2000, I nominated my father to be a torchbearer in the American legs of the relay. They were taking online submissions, and I wrote about Dad, who taught me about great Olympic athletes as well as the importance of respect and tolerance - the Olympic ideal. I wrote about his giving nature, from his medical patients to his own invalid mother. I wrote about his reverence for the Olympic Games, which he passed on to his children.
He was not chosen, but other people were. Other people who were also submitted by loved ones who believe in the ideals of the Olympics. Just as this year, the few American runners in San Francisco were honored with this opportunity. And their loved ones were not able to watch them run by with that flame.
While preparing this post, I read a San Francisco Chronicle article about the runners; I am so impressed with their attitudes about the changed route. They appreciated their symbolic role as well as the motivations of the protesters. They do embody the spirit of the Olympic Games.
For coverage of San Francisco's Olympic Torch Relay, go here.