Carson: 2016 Olympics remind us our youth matters
Alex Carson | Monday, August 29, 2016
When you’re new at Notre Dame, you answer the same questions so often the answers get drilled into your head. I live in O’Neill Hall; I’m an applied and computational mathematics and statistics major (say that three times fast); I’m from this little suburb of Chicago known as Indianapolis.
But as you start to grow older, you develop real, meaningful relationships. Those relationships lead to a new question every August: “What did you do this summer?”
As far as stock answers go, mine’s pretty easy. I spent the first few weeks of it teaching high schoolers some assorted calculus topics — remember arc length, integration by parts and the shell method? — and then, by and large, did nothing until I took the GRE in August. Because I should at least pretend I have a plan for what happens after I graduate in May.
Oh, right, I also celebrated an NBA title in June with my dad, whose 52-year-long dream was finally realized.
During the last couple weeks of this summer though, like most sports fans, I turned my attention south toward Rio for the 2016 Olympics. Setting aside the infrastructure and other assorted problems — of which there were plenty — and the absurdity of the Ryan Lochte situation — which only served to deflect attention away from deserving storylines late in the games — these Olympics were quite great.
We said fitting goodbyes to two of the greatest athletes of all time, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. I can’t really remember an Olympics where Phelps didn’t compete — that’ll be weird if he isn’t talked back for 2020 — and Bolt has dominated sprinting like nobody has before and, more than likely, nobody will again. Phelps is the greatest male swimmer the world’s ever seen, and Bolt is the greatest male sprinter.
But instead of focusing on the greats walking away, what about the ones coming in? Because it was a fantastic Olympics for some of the world’s youngest athletes.
Let’s say what’s true: No other athlete dominates his or her sport quite like Katie Ledecky does with distance swimming. And after four gold medals and a silver in Rio, she’s just 19 and has no real competitors, at least in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events (yes, it is meters at the Olympic level).
And then you have Simone Biles who, like Ledecky, is also 19 and the greatest athlete her sport has ever seen, though that idea Is perhaps a little less out of the blue in gymnastics. I’m one of those people who really don’t know what’s going on in gymnastics — I think every routine looks pretty fantastic — but you don’t have to in order to enjoy and appreciate her greatness.
Getting out of the American bubble, we saw Canadian 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak emerge as a rising star in the pool … and then tweet Drake asking for concert tickets. As I’d expect any teenage girl to.
Setting aside that today’s youth are somehow inherently lazy — at least that’s what old people love to yell about — the Olympics presented an interesting idea to me: That I can take inspiration from those younger than me.
That’s not how the typical maturation process goes. We look up to parents or coaches, politicians or teachers, but never really think to look back a few years.
So let’s answer the question again: What did I do with my summer?
Yeah, sure, I taught a bit, coached a bit and studied a bit. Nothing too much.
But through it all, from the kids in my classroom in May to the ones on my TV screen in August, I re-learned a valuable lesson: Our youth matters. In the classroom, on the field or working on a community service project.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.