As I expected would happen, I have become enraptured by the Olympic Games.  I began to wonder why it is that leading up to every Olympiad, I say to myself, “I really don’t care”, and then find myself unable to stop watching once the Games begin. Is it about patriotism, I wondered?  I don’t think so.  Patriotism is something you have embedded in you, it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) surface only every four years.

Then I read a nice article by Cathal Kelly in The Toronto Star a couple of days ago (as an aside, I think Kelly has done a commendable job of capturing the human spirit behind the Games).  As he so aptly put it:

It’s not the sport. Nobody really cares about kayaking or beach volleyball. It isn’t patriotism precisely, or the physical superlatives, or the hot bods.

We care because the athletes plainly care so much it hurts. It’s emotions we crave — good and bad. Let’s face it, the bad hit us hardest. They satisfy some deep need in all of us to believe that we will get through it — whatever ‘it’ is.

So, it really is about emotions. The Olympics give us great insight into human capacity: how much pain can we endure, how many obstacles can we overcome?  Isn’t this so much more rewarding than celebrating a simple win? These athletes have trained for most of their lives to reach perfection under imperfect circumstances.  And for Canadians at least, it seems to be human nature to cheer for the performance, not the result (I guess we don’t really have a choice, because – despite the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Own the Podium program – we will never be able to compete with the U.S. or China when it comes to total medal count).

It wasn’t that long ago that our hearts broke with Joannie Rochette’s, skating an incredibly emotional long program to a bronze medal, despite having just lost her mother days prior at the Vancouver Winter Games.  The 2012 London Games have given Canucks more than their fair share of heartbreak.  On a sociological level, it is remarkable to me how we have come together to loudly and proudly voice our support and pride for our women’s soccer team, for Simon Whitfield and for Paula Findlay.  They took us along on their personal journeys, and we felt every bit as invested as they were.

These athletes have shown us that despite their training for excellence, they are human at the core: they hurt, they cry, and their worst fear is disappointing the spouse, the kids, the parents, the grandmother who gave up so much so that they could pursue their own Olympic dreams. When their weaknesses are exposed, we feel just as naked. It brings them down to our level, and as Kelly says, after medals are won (or lost) over 14 days of competition, when they parade in for the closing ceremonies, they are all equal again.  Equal to each other, and equal to us mere mortals.

So if we ask ourselves if we should continue to invest in the Olympic movement, there is an argument to be had that we should: not to support excellence in sport, but to support excellence in humanity.