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Lorton: Sport in its purest form (Feb. 6)

Isaac Lorton | Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Editor’s note: This is eighth in a 10-part series discussing the best event in sports. In this installment, Issac Lorton argues for the Olympics.

There is only one true sporting event, and it is absolutely, unequivocally, hands down, bar none, you-get the-picture certain – the Olympics.

For the sake of space I will speak only of the Summer Olympics, because it is the original Granddaddy of them all (Please, the Rose Bowl?).

The Summer Olympics is more than just a sporting event. It is a global event that grasps the world’s attention for two weeks in the spirit of competition. It is not a competition for money, it is not for contract extensions, it is not for being drafted; the Olympics are for pride, for nationalism and for the love of the game. The Olympics are the essence of what sports should be.
Thousands of athletes in 28 different sports train their whole lives for one chance on a global stage to show the world that they are truly the best in their respective sport.

What other sporting event boasts swimming, track and field, gymnastics, soccer and much more at one venue, at one time and with the whole world watching? Exactly. No other sporting event but the Olympics does this.

Then there is the pageantry. When people tune in to the Opening Ceremonies, the host country has the opportunity to display itself to the world, and the world gets to know the host country. I did not understand what was being said or sung at the 2008 Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

The Olympics transcend sports and capture human nature in a way no other sporting event can. In a growing global community, the Olympics do what politicians and world leaders cannot. For two weeks, the world comes together and is a bit more peaceful with people cheering on their athletes and their nation.

It does not matter what sport is being played – people cheer for their countrymen. I don’t know about you, but I was yelling at the TV when the United States badminton team was playing.
The Olympics give sports that usually do not get airtime the chance to be seen for once (albeit every four years), and the athletes who are not recognized on a daily basis have the chance to showcase their truly incredible talents.

The Olympics are the most inclusive of all sporting events. It does not discriminate. It was one of the first sporting events to allow women to compete. After beginning in 1896, the modern Olympiad allowed women to compete just four years later in 1900. All of the athletes are there at one time. How can an event be the best in sports if it is not all-inclusive? And how would Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh have won three gold medals without the Olympics, or how would we express our apathy without the “McKayla Maroney is not impressed” meme?

Furthermore, the Olympics break down barriers and bring the world closer. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when racism was prevalent and Hitler was championing an ideal Aryan race, African-American track athlete Jesse Owens stood atop the podium, not once, but four times. In 1968 after the 200-meter dash, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos, raised their fists clad in black gloves and bowed their heads in solidarity with the civil rights movement.   

The stories do not get any larger than at the Olympics. Jim Thorpe winning two gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon in Stockholm in 1912, Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila’s barefoot run in Rome in 1960 to become the first black African athlete to win a gold, 14-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci’s flawless performances on her way to three golds, a silver and a bronze in 1976 in Montreal, runner Kirani James winning Grenada’s first gold medal ever in the 2012 London Olympics, Michael Phelps winning eight in Beijing in 2008 – the list goes on.

And if the emotions and stories are not enough to convince that the Olympics are the greatest sporting event, here are some numbers for the heartless people out there. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Nielson Media Research estimated 4.7 billion people tuned into the Games over the course of two weeks. That’s nearly 70 percent of the world’s population.

Hypothetically, if we watched the Super Bowl every day over the course of the 16-day Olympiad (using Super Bowl XLV, the most watched event in U.S. history with 111 million viewers), it falls nearly 3 billion viewers short of the Beijing Olympics. The 2006 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, over 30 days, had a total of 715 million viewers, according to FIFA. The World Cup, which was held twice in the time span between Olympic Games, has 6.5 times less viewership than the Olympics. Even the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics beat all 30 days of the World Cup by 269 million viewers.

So there you have it.

By tradition, by emotions, by the numbers and by the essence of sports, the Olympics are the one-and-only true sporting event.    

Contact Issac Lorton at ilorton@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.