Millions upon millions of people love the Olympics. But the Olympics have also become a sporting event that many people the world over love to hate. Every two years, whether it's the Summer or Winter Games, the same stories roll around. The Games have become too corporate! They're too focused on sponsorships! Cities ruin themselves to host the Olympics! Doping renders the competition false and meaningless!
There's some truth to these criticisms. But they're easy enough to refute, too. You need big money to put on big sporting events, cities choose (and, in fact, beg) to host the Olympics, and doping is no more nor less prevalent in the Olympics than in other major world sports.
Look, I'm an unabashed lover of the Olympics. They are a delight to watch and enjoy. Relax. Have some fun. Because the Olympics are great.
Here are a few reasons why:
The Olympics are exciting, captivating, and inspiring. Why do we watch sports? Because we want to watch great feats of athleticism. It's extraordinarily captivating to watch our fellow humans push through the limits of the body and mind. Body and mind are very much one — at their best, sports demonstrate that. They offer a window into the overwhelming realm of human possibility. The Olympics shows this more than any other sporting event. Where else do you see all-time world records shattered on a daily basis?
The Olympics offer great stories. Many legends of sport have been written during the Olympics. Usain Bolt's incredible speed. Barefoot Kenyan marathon runners. The great drama of the Soviet-U.S. basketball final in the 1972 Olympics, when the Soviets won by a single point as time expired. Or the great drama of Nadia Comaneci's Perfect 10 in gymnastics. Or that heartbreaking moment in the 2012 Olympics when a South Korean fencer believed she had been robbed of the gold over a last-second referee decision and sat on the field in silent protest for more than an hour while her team lodged an appeal, as leaving the field would mean conceding.
The Olympics elevate amateurs. Very few Olympic athletes are millionaires. Only the ice-hearted could be numb to the romance of the amateur athlete who rises to the height of his sport. Most athletes in the lesser-known sports have day jobs, and spend years, during nights and weekends, training over and over again for a chance, once every four years, at glory. And then one day, they have the chance to walk into a stadium, give it their best, step onto a podium, and wear a medal and hear their anthem be broadcast to almost literally the entire world. They are normal people who achieve the extraordinary. They are, in so many respects, like us — but in this one strange way, superhuman.
The Olympics introduce us to strange sports. One reason why I became a journalist is because it's a job that encourages you to be curious about everything. Everything is interesting. Something similar is true of sports. Every sport has its intricacies, the qualities it calls upon for mastery. Rowers need incredible discipline. Marathoners push the limits of human endurance. Heptathletes need to be amazing all-around athletes. Handball is one of the most exciting, fast-paced sports around, and it's only because of the vagaries and injustices of history that it's not as popular as, say, basketball. Shooting requires nerves of iron. Fencing requires superhuman reflexes. It's amazing to get a glimpse of all those sports, to learn about them and to watch them being played with world-class standards in world-class venues.
Let me put in a last word for my favorite newcomer: rugby sevens. Unlike rugby union, which focuses on strength as well as movement, rugby sevens is a very gracious game, almost all about movement, which it has to be, with just seven players per team.
Rugby sevens is an amazing game that doesn't get nearly enough attention. And the Olympics brought it up from obscurity. And very good for it.
The Olympics really live up to their motto of "Citius, Altius, Fortius" — "Faster, Higher, Stronger." They allow us to experience great stories, and witness some of the greatest human excellence and achievement that it's possible to witness. And they're great entertainment. Don't be a curmudgeon. Relish the Olympics.