That’s basically what Pierre de Coubertin says in the Olympic creed:
The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
But to many Olympians, winning is everything. That is what they strive for their whole lives: to win gold at the Olympic games. There are many big picture controversies at these Olympics about how the games were financed, or how the venues were built, or how the zika virus might affect everyone there. But there are few who are focusing on the small picture of the games.
It is a great US tradition to win as many medals as possible and to not just win, but to crush the competition. Of course there are sports that we are consistently not very good in (Table Tennis), but the US has a reputation of winning at the Olympics. Even for us though, there are athletes who go to the games and come away empty handed. The distance between 3rd and 4th place becomes very real for these athletes.
For the rest of the world, we get to go on with our daily lives, probably not even remembering who won bronze in a particular event. But for the athletes who trained for years, sometimes decades to walk away from Rio without a medal can be devastating. At times we get to witness the emotions that spill out when athletes realize that they have missed the podium by hundredths of a second.
It is easy to talk about winning not being everything, but it is very different to understand, think and live it after an athlete has not medaled at the games. So lets zoom in on the photo finish of everyone else for a minute. All these athletes have accomplished something magnificent and extraordinary. The training for a sport can be brutally repetitive and undeniably exhaustive, and whoever is willing and able to conquer those feelings of struggle are the ones who get to represent their country in the Olympics.
So let’s try and remember and appreciate what good ole Pierre said when we watch Olympians pour their life’s work out on screen this week, and try to recognize the mountain on which all of those athletes stand. And as we look up, yes there is a person who got to the top first, but it is quite impressive that all of them got up there at all.