Myriad thoughts pulsed through my mind as I watched the teams from every corner of the planet parade by the fortunate 91,000 spectators. My first thought was the excruciatingly painful contrast of the dates 63 years ago-August 5th and 9th-when the "Nuclear Age" burst upon our world by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
The hand-waving, the smiles on every face, white, brown, black, red or any color in between, the overwhelming sense of unity and joy, not to mention wonder at the glorious spectacle spreading before our eyes, the elegant, colorful costumes, the precision of the dancers and performers, and the splendiferous finale!-that giant blessed world with the planets soaring above magically circling like friendly observers-all coalesced into the reality that, indeed, the world was one and peopled by us, the human race. Would "lucky" 8/8/08, inserted willfully by the Chinese government between those two dreadful moments, when 260,000 humans were obliterated in a gigantic flash of fire with radiation continuing its devastation for years thereafter, mitigate that human tragedy?
But then, here were Putin and Bush, Sarkozy and Hu Jintao, all with nuclear bombs at their fingertips, now powerful enough to obliterate the human race, ordinary spectators among the others applauding when their national teams entered the vast arena. Indeed, news of armed conflict between Georgia and Russia, and continuing alleged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan competed ironically with the worldly extravanganza opening via satellite before more then half the world's eyes.
"Wouldn't it be great to see our world flag being carried by that Olympic speed skater who tried to renounce his U.S. citizenship in Athens and declare himself a world citizen?" Robin remarked as tiny Naura marched by.
"Oh, you mean, Nathaniel Lincoln Mills,"* I replied. "Yes, we talked with him later about putting together a World Citizen Olympic team with him as the captain. He found the idea very timely and appealing. In the meantime, he agreed to fronting a World Sports Commission for the government. In fact, he told us, 'There's a phenomenon already of world-class athletes moving across national boundaries to compete in the Olympics. Take Maria Mutola, for instance. She's a middle-distance runner from Mozambique who's on the U.S. team. She's won more than a dozen championship titles. Then there's Bernard Lagat, born in Kenya, a world-class runner for the U.S. who won Olympic medals for Kenya in Athens and Sydney. The U.S. team here, 596 members, includes three dozen foreign-born athletes including British rower Jen Goldsack. Then Becky Hammon joined Russia's 2008 Olympic basketball team after she didn't make the U.S. squad. And Qatar, which wants to host the 2016 games, has gathered the Somali runner Mohammed Suleiman who finished third in the 1,500 meters, and Angel Popov, a Bulgarian weightlifter who won a bronze in 2000. You see, a sort of globalisation is beginning to invade the Olympics despite the nationalistic fervor.'"
"And high time too!" we both agreed.
As we continued to watch the elaborate and inspiring show, my mind's eye returned to the Olympic's beginnings in 776 BC in Greece. They were celebrated until AD 393, in short, for 1169 years. According to Wikipedia, interest in their revival was first shown by the Greek poet and newspaper editor Panagiotta Soutsos in 1833. But the first modern international Olympic festival didn't happen until 1859 sponsored by Evengerios Zappas when nation-states were in their infancy in response to feudalism. The Olympic motto from its beginnings-Citius, Altius, Fortius-Faster, Higher, Stronger-obviously applied directly to the athletes' prowess, not to their political allegiance or where they were born on the planet.
They were humans. That was sufficient. Indeed the Olympic Charter is clear on that point: "The goal of Olympism is to place sport in the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."
The bottom line was expressed by one Sharon Andrews in response to a Christian Science Monitor story on August 4 by Crista Case Bryant and Danna Harman entitled Now more than ever, Olympic teams go multinational.
"I found this a fascinating story-a background piece so typical of the Monitor in its depth. As world-class athletes move across national boundaries to compete, we will not only see the true meaning of world class, but will also see the emergence of a world citizenry that can become ambassadors for peace, as the athletes learn to love and appreciate multiple cultures and nationalities: Bravo!"
My (and Robin's and Nathaniel's) sentiments precisely.
Now, about that nuclear Damocle's sword hanging by 8 nationalistic threads above our heads....