The Power of the Olympics
“I am very much looking forward to what will be an incredible Olympics.” A quote such as this, if stemming from an unknown source, could easily be attributed to any of the 10, 490 athletes competing at the 2012 Olympic Games.
That it comes from the mouth of a man entering his first Olympics after four years of training, torment and torture as he strove to reach his dreams probably doesn’t narrow it down a whole lot – save for the gender.
These words originated from Oscar Pistorius, a 25 year-old South African 400 metre. Born without a fibula in either leg, Pistorius had both legs below the knee amputated before his first birthday.
Pistorius’ inclusion in able-bodied competition came with a barrage of controversy. Debate has circled around his presence for years, so much so that in 2008 the IAAF went so far as to change the rules of the sport to disable him from competing. The man who had fought his own disability for so long was being handicapped by the governing body of his own sport.
To think that having no legs could be an advantage…
Anyway, to cut a long, long story short – Pistorius was selected to the Olympic team and went on to compete in the semi final of the 400 metres.
For all the talk surrounding Pistorius, I think it’s best summed up by the reigning World Champion Kirani James (who won the Semi that Pistorius bowed out in).
“Oscar is a very special guy and I was honoured to be out here on the track with him…He’s an inspiration to all of us…It takes a lot of courage and confidence to do what he has done today,” James said. Not much more needs to be said – a fellow competitor could hardly speak highly enough of the South African.
Upon completing the race James, rather than undertaking the obligatory celebration, immediately sought out Pistorius to exchange bibs. An incredibly delicate and touching moment of these games, highlighting the power they have to unite race, gender, culture and abilities.
James did not conduct this exchange out of pity, remorse or charity. He simply acknowledged the incredible effort his competitor had undertaken simply to compete at the games and took the time to do something about it.
James went on to remark; “I just see him as another athlete, another competitor. What’s more important is I see him as another person. He’s someone I admire and respect.”
A wonderful thing to say about a fellow athlete and truly the best meaning of what it is to be an Olympian.
The other story from the Olympics that caught my imagination was that of Wojdan Shaherkani.
Her journey within the Olympics lasted all of 83 seconds. Her prelude to, and legacy from it, will last a whole lot longer.
The first Saudi woman to compete at the Olympics arrived amongst a barrage of disgusting conservative criticism from her own country. Indeed, her invitation to join the Olympics came not from qualification – but a direct invitation from the IOC. She could not qualify because her country does not conduct Judo competitions for women.
Some groups within Saudi Arabia took such offence to her participation in the Games that she was publicly labelled a “whore” simply for wanting to compete. It is surely one thing to be born with a disability, another to live in a society that imposes one upon you.
The British public, amid others, offered her a warm welcome to her place on the arena as an exceptional case – hopefully she can be welcomed in Rio as, like Pistorius, simply another athlete.
For all its corruption and drawbacks, it’s stories such as these that bring me enthusiastically every four years to the sanctity of the couch for two weeks – to devour footage of the world’s best athletes and be moved by the destruction of so many barriers.