Olympic Hopefuls or Hope?

In 1980 I became an official fan of the Olympic games. The setting was Lake Placid, New York. Like most Americans, our home had been bombarded with commercials about the games. The local news outlets in Knoxville would give nightly updates about the preparations being made in New York. I remember very well our nation being excited…but also edgy. In those days, the Summer and Winter Olympic games were held in the same year. Prior to the Summer games, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. With tensions already escalating with the Soviets and the Summer games being scheduled for Moscow, our president decided to boycott the Summer games. Though most Americans understood the decision, and even supported it, it was still painful to see the American athletes miss out on the opportunity to compete in an event that only comes around every four years. (Just fyi the Soviets would later boycott the 1984 games in Los Angeles.) With the United States missing the Summer games, I think we were all that more excited about the Winter games. We didn’t have cable TV at our home, but the networks did a pretty decent job of promoting the games and making sure Americans were on the same page as the Opening Ceremony approached. Of course, I knew about the Olympics themselves…but it wasn’t until 1980, as a twelve year old, that I actually began to understand how they worked. Like most Americans, we had a few boxes of Wheaties with, then, Bruce Jenner on the box from the 1976 games. I didn’t know what the Decathlon was…but I knew Bruce had won it in Olympics. If nothing else, the Wheaties box made me aware of the games and by 1980, I was old enough to start paying attention.

While many good things happened in the 1980 games, I remember two “huge” things from the winter games. Perhaps the most famous of the two was the accomplishment of the US Hockey team. As tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union stayed readily hot, the US team met the Soviets in the semifinals. Though I knew absolutely nothing about hockey, I knew going into the game that virtually no one was giving our team a chance to advance past the semis. The Soviet team was basically an “all star” team of professionals. They were heavily favored to not simply beat us, but win the Gold medal. The media all but said everyone else was playing for second place. As it turned out, the US beat the Soviets in the “Miracle On Ice” and Al Michaels’, “do you believe in miracles, YES!” became forever etched into our memories. The US team would go on to defeat Finland in the finals and take home the Gold. In just a matter of a few short days, the entire nation had become not just hockey fans…but deeply devout and devoted patriotic hockey fans. Even today, I can still name several players from that team. Having lived through it…it really was a big deal.

The second big thing I took away from the games was a 5 gold medal performance from American speed-skater, Eric Heiden. Heiden skated in 5 events and won all five, setting 4 new Olympic records and 1 world record in the five races. As a kid, I was awe-struck by the guy from Wisconsin. His accomplishments joined the hockey team’s in the category of what many called, “impossible.” I got to watch “the impossible.” Not only that, but both of these were from my country…my home…and they represented the best our nation had to offer. Everyone was bursting with pride as the games came to a close. I purposefully tried to wear as much red, white, and blue as I could find. I felt a part of something great. Those guys in New York…that I was watching on the TV…were not “they” or “them”…they were “us” and “we.” I honestly get goose bumps when I stop and think about it.

1980 was a long time ago…41 years to be exact. I find it so crazy that I can remember as much of it as I can. Ask anyone and they will tell you I am not known for my amazing memory. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I’m as scatter-brained as they come. But I do remember those Winter Games. More than the games, themselves, I remember the unity they brought to the nation. The U.S. was the United States and we were an “us.” Of course, historically, the games do that very thing. I believe that’s one of the great hopes of every Olympic games. When an athlete wearing your nation’s colors participates in any event…he or she becomes your representative…and you cheer for them. Whether the event takes seconds, minutes, hours, or days, those athletes become like family…if only for a short time.

Our nation needs that now. WE need it…maybe now more than ever. Being “together” is not something the United States is known for these days. Truth is, we are a hot-bed of division. Racial and political tensions are high. A friend of mine quipped recently that our nation has become a soap opera with shocking moments of reality TV splashed in to make sure we are all paying attention…certainly kinda feels that way at times. I find myself wondering where the “us” went. Where did the “we” go? Of course, these are big subjects and I don’t mean to minimize the issues at hand in any way. Our nation has real issues with no easy answers in sight. To make matters worse, the line between love and hate has never been thinner…at least not that I can remember. This spirit has spilled over into just about every arena you can imagine. It’s almost as though the whole nation is angry about something…and we take it out on whoever might have the audacity to disagree with us on any one point. Even within our own Southern Baptist Convention, we see the accusatory hate speech lobbed back and forth on social media platforms that strongly resemble 5th grade playground arguments where whoever screams the loudest wins. I’m sure God must be pleased and proud. I will reserve my opinion on that nonsense for another time, day, and blog. Sigh…

In just 2 days, the Opening Ceremony will begin and the Games will be underway. I will tune in and watch as much as I can…that’s my norm. I will cheer for the Red, White, and Blue. That’s what I do. I will miss seeing Michael Phelps swimming after history as Father Time caught up to him. It will be odd not seeing Usain Bolt in his green and yellow Jamaica colors trying to break more records on the track…also a victim of Father Time. Simone Biles stands ready to carve more stats into the gymnastics record book that already includes what some call, “the greatest of all time.” Katie Ledecky continues to defy the odds, logic, and time and will once again dive into the pool sporting more medals and awards than any female swimmer in history. The stories of countless others will undoubtedly make their way to us as we go through these games. The US has many athletes being called “hopefuls” in their respective events. I’m cheering for all of them and their years of hard work and training…it’s a great thing for them when it happens and it’s a great thing for us to see when it happens. But I’m also cheering and hoping for “hope.” I’m hoping for the spirit of “we” and “us” in Tokyo. I’m hoping we realize the importance of “we.” I’m hoping we see our team as “us” and I’m hoping our team understands they are representing “us.” That’s a good a thing to hope for. If that hope is granted, we might even experience some healing…and that’s needed more than medals. May the glories of “God Bless America” and “In God is Our Trust” permeate our calloused hearts and remind us of our countless blessings.

Let’s Go Team USA!!! Let’s Go United States. May our gracious God use these “games” to do a sovereign work in hurting nation. That is my hope…I pray you will make it yours.

Bro Mark

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