Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sports aren't the stats

As the Olympics stretch into its first full week, eyes are focused on what team will advance, which athlete scored the game-changing goal and what nation will ultimately end on top. The statistics, the scores, the standings — these are what make the Olympics go round, the all-important details that keep the audience on the edge of its seat.
If I were back at home watching the games on my television set, maybe this would be my main focus, too. Maybe my eyes would be glued on Ryan Lochte (my new favorite swimmer) as he races toward the edge of the pool, beating out the competition by only a tenth of a second. Maybe this kind of last minute, nail-biting moment is the type I’d be tuning in to see. But here, in the heart of it all, I’ve found a different focal point. It’s the less obvious and less glamorized — but certainly just as defining — times that keep the wheels turning.
A police officer is greeted by the crowd moments
before the men's cycling race began July 28.
Take, for instance, the men’s cycling race last Saturday. With my recorder and journalist notebook in hand, I stood on the side of the road ready to take note of which rider would tear away from the group and beeline to the finish. That’s where the story is, right? Wrong. As the riders whooshed by, I heard the sound of sirens and immediately ran towards the commotion (usually not the smartest idea, but curiosity got the best of me). An Iranian biker had lost his balance and careened into a spectator filming the event. It wasn’t a minor crash; not one that could easily be walked away from. It was a crash that ended the man’s race altogether. This still wasn’t the story.
I saw a cluster of people kneel down beside the cyclist, holding his hurt ankle, rubbing his back and giving him water. These weren’t EMTs. These were  people wearing USA flags and Team Great Britain t-shirts, the people decked out in orange hats to cheer on Holland and the people painted in Spain’s national colors. They were fans that came to watch their respective countries ride to victory, pitted against one another in competition. But when the man hit the ground, none of it really mattered anymore. It didn’t matter that no one spoke a common language or that none of the fans wore the same colors. The “us vs. them” mentality had completely faded and people from all over united in the face of one man’s tragedy. If you hadn’t guessed, this, right here, is the story.
These are the instances that make the Olympics so inspiring. Yes, the stats are important, but I still don’t think I know who ended up winning the race that day. What moved me was what I witnessed on the sidelines—the raw emotion, compassion and togetherness otherwise invisible on the main course.

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