There's been a lot of debate in recent days over the meaning of Olympic results. In this day and age, winning an Olympic medal can't just be for love of the game anymore, despite what the athletes and coaches might profess for the cameras. An ABC news poll shows that the majority of Americans believe that it's "important" to them that the United States was the top medal winner, while 17% call it "very important." Meanwhile, the blogosphere is abuzz with doping allegations, stories of inhumane Chinese training, and devil's advocates who insist on poking holes left and right in the mystique of American exceptionalism.
"Not that it's about the medal count," NPR's Tom Goldman said, reporting from London. "No, over-hyping the medal count is old-fashioned jingoistic, and against the friendly spirit of the games." He paused, "But here's the medal count."
Some have gone as far as to call the medal race between the U.S. and China reminiscent of the Cold War. The Twitter hashtag #goldorbust trends on and off as Michael Phelps is berated for achieving only a silver, and American athletes dive into events with an all-or-nothing mentality. The Chinese, they say, unfairly push and manipulate their athletes for national glory, while Americans pursue their sports for love of the game; and yet here we are, writing up accusations as if it were an Olympic event in itself, and talking up the Games like an economic proxy war.
Yes, it's all in the spirit of the games. But when has the spirit of the games gone too far?
Perhaps it's time to reclaim what the so-called spirit of the games is really about; and we needn't look any further than our neighbors to the north.
Canadians, and Canadian athletes, are similar to their American counterparts in a number of ways, but Olympic attitude is not one of them. "Who cares [about medals], our athletes have been performing with courage, dignity and class; that is truly what is important," one Canadian blogger writes, and another goes on to hail his country's commitment to schools and hospitals over athletic fanfare. Contrary to America's gold-or-bust mentality, the Vancouver Sun called the Canadian women's soccer team bronze medal "as good as gold" for their spectacular effort. The internet erupted with pride and praise, and Canadian tweeters lauded the accomplishments of the women inspiring the next generation of Canadian athletes.
Meanwhile down south, #goldorbust trended right under #USWNT as the U.S. women's team geared up for their "revenge match."
Is it wrong to be competitive? Of course not. Should our athletes strive to come out on top? Yes, and I admire their drive and determination. But, all that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it's not about the Cold War or an economic forecast. Sometimes we ought to take a cue from Canada, and pursue Olympic success with pride and purely, as the phrase goes, in the spirit of the games.