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The Summer Olympics

August 8, 2016

Last Friday, Brazil officially welcomed world athletes to the Games of the XXXI (31st) Olympiad.  The modern games began in Athens in 1896, where 14 countries -- 250 competitors -- participated and with  over 100,000 fans filling the stadium.  This year over 10,000 athletes will participate in a record number of sports. Since the first modern games, the Olympics reconvene every four years with the exception of the 1940 and 1944 games, during WWII.  

Primarily billed as a means for peacefully gathering the world’s best, it has not been without controversy and tragedy:

  • Sadly, terrorists gunned down two Israeli athletes.  In the fire fight which followed seven more Israelis and five others died during the 1972 Munich Games.
  • Many countries boycotted the 1980 and 1984 Summer Games over Russia's invasion of Afghanistan.
  • The silver medals still left unclaimed after officials allowed a very controversial basket scored with no time on the clock during the finals of the 1972 Men’s Basketball Gold medal game. 
  • Hundred meter champion, Ben Johnson, failed a drug test immediately after his victory and the stripping of Jim Thorpe’s gold medals over inconsequential claims of professionalism.  

Yet, the games have proven worthy of our attention.  We'd like to highlight some of the moments that will be remembered throughout ages to come:

  • Remember Olga Valentinovna Korbut’s famous high-bar back flip and Nadia Elena Comăneci's perfect 10 performance on the uneven bars, the first "10 score" awarded in Olympic gymnastics history.  The score board displayed her score as 1.00 because 10’s were not thought to be possible. 
  • Mark Spitz’s won a record seven gold medals in swimming. Michael Phelps broke that record winning eight swimming gold medals in 2008. 

  • Briton’s Steve Redgrave won gold in an unprecedented five straight Olympics in rowing, the last during the 2000 Games in Sydney.  
  • Dick Fosbury flopped himself into a high-jump gold medal, a technique which still now dominates the sport.
  • And remember the majesty of the United States 1992 Dream Team Basketball players, perhaps the greatest assembly of basketball talent ever.  
  • The influence of a young black athlete, Jessie Owens, winning four golds in front of Hitler even while facing stiff racial barriers from his own country.  
  • The integrity of the British runner, Eric Liddell, refusal to race on the Sabbath.
  • And then there is the all inspiring story of John Stephen Akhwari, who was badly injured at the start of a marathon race and hobbled to the finish line.  When asked why he continued until he finished dead last and in the dark, he simply said, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles just to start the race; they sent me to finish the race.”

The Olympics have been an effective means for appropriately promoting world harmony.  After her visit with President Nixon, Olga remarked that the President had informed her that her performance in the gym had done more good than five years of diplomacy.  For the next few weeks enjoy their skill, enjoy their excellence and remember our common humanity. 

Mark, John, and Bill



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