What does the Olympics mean to you?
I start with this question because of recent news that the Olympic rings, symbols and content have been copyrighted to a point that only official sponsors are able to use the image. This is both disturbing and not surprising. Disturbing because of what the Olympics is supposed to stand for and not surprising because I know we live in a capitalist world where money is more important than values, justice or doing what is right. Do I sound cynical?
I am frustrated! The more I learn about the Olympics of the modern age the less I feel it lives up to the original meaning. That is also true with the idea of democracy (all people have power and voice) or treat others as you would like to be treated. Great in theory, but has never come to fruition. The Olympics in my mind is about individuals competing to showcase their talents. It is also a time when nations stop focusing on their petty differences and celebrate the achievements of these individuals regardless of where they came from.
We have also seen the inequalities of the Olympics. Rio is a prime example of this. We see the amazing facilities of the Olympic stadiums, the scenic views and the skyscrapers that line the city. What isn't shown is the devastating poverty , or the unsanitary conditions. We have heard stories of pollution in the water that the boats will compete, we have seen the water in the diving pools turn green. But the real inequality will happen when the games and all the tourists leave Rio. It is what happens after every Olympic Games. The Olympics ushers in billions of dollars in construction and development that brings in tourism dollars. When the games end, the stadiums go unused, unfilled and quickly fall apart. We see that in China, with their birds nest stadium and other nations. Billions of dollars are spent, but where did that money go? Who did it benefit? Did it lesson the poverty or economic distress of that nation? What can be done to improve this situation?
The Olympics is a time when millions of people stop what they are doing and share a common experience. They celebrate the amazing abilities, and hard work that has allowed the athletes from around the world to come to one place and perform for themselves, their countries, and most importantly the human spirit.
I still love the Olympics and stay up late to watch the events. I have seen so many examples of the true Olympic spirit throughout the games and have found myself cheering for the great performances and shining spirits. The other night a runner in a distance race fell and was able to get up and win the race. Another track event saw an athlete fall and injure herself. The shining moment was when another athlete helped her up and cross the finish line. There have been so many great stories of people young and old. Like the 17 year old youngest 400m hurdler in the field who didn't live up to her potential respond with words beyond her years. Or the 41 year old Gymnast who is still competing at a high level, or the 40+ year old cyclist from America who won her race. These are all great stories that help us remember the games are about the people not the country.
There have been some amazing individual performances by people who have gone beyond what they had ever done prior. There have been performances where people have become champions in multiple events or in multiple Olympics. Some are beginning their Olympic career, some are seeing it come to an end. Some have met or exceeded their goals and others failed to achieve them.
In watching the Olympics I have thought a lot about the idea of failure. I have watched some amazing performances. I have seen world and Olympic records broken and in some cases smashed. I have seen individuals and teams squeak out a victory while others ran away from the competition. What I have thought about most often is how do we see the Silver, and Bronze medalists, and even more those who finished middle or back of the pack. What do we think about those who didn't make it out of the qualifying heats? They are all Olympians and all champions. It seems to me that as the events are reported those not standing on the podium at the end, and sometimes those not wearing the gold, are viewed as failures. That to me is unconscionable. Our society only remembers the winners. We rarely remember who lost the superbowl, unless it is the Buffalo Bills who did it 4 times in a row, no offense but that is memorable. Even then they were the best team in their division 4 years in a row and yet are mocked because they lost that one game. Just getting to that championship took years of hard work, sacrifice and dedication that most of us will never understand. The same is true of the Olympic athletes. All of these athletes should be celebrated for their accomplishments, not their lack of hardware. They are the best in the world, and it is a big world about 7 billion people and growing.
Q1 We may never forget the names of some of these champions like Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, or Usain Bolt, but what about the medalists at these games? Why are some celebrated so much more than others? What about the lessor known historical figures in history who have changed the world? How do we share those great stories with our students, and why should we?
Q2 The Olympic Spirit has come shining through in some memorable moments during this Olympics. I am being drawn to the idea of using art and literature here- How can we use the Olympics as a prompt for student creativity? Think of the human spirit or other content that can connect your your subject but be produced in a creative or new way.
Q3 The Olympics have lots of connection to politics, economics, environment, science - physics and math. How can we use the Olympics to teach lessons about economics or environmental impact of hosting the Games? Or How can we collaborate with our colleagues, especially different departments to create cross curricular lessons? I am sure @MathDenisNJ has some math ideas.
Q4 The Olympics has so many examples of individuals who didn't meet the goal of being the best in their field on that day. How can we use this idea in our teaching? How can we use this with our students? Are these individuals failures?
Q5 Inequalities exist in the world. Some people benefit financially from the Olympics while others see the potential of the money spent to host the Olympics slip away. Could you share some examples of the costs to host the Olympics, economic conditions of the host nations, and images or articles about what happens to stadiums/facilities after the games to set up as a prompt. The Olympics has winners and losers, some in the events, others are the citizens of the host nation. After exploring the information, what would be your recommendations to the Olympic Committee to improve the problems you have found?
Q6 Take a few minutes to look at the individuals who make up the USA Olympic Team. I took pause as I read the story of the Olympic Fencer or many other individuals who are first or second generation immigrants, or many who are minority groups in our country. There is currently a divisive debate over immigration. One candidate wants to keep whole religious groups out, yet we have individuals from these groups representing our nation in the Olympics. How can we use the stories of our Olympic representatives to create a learning opportunity?