In one of my favorite movies “Prefontaine,” legendary Oregon track coach, and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman (played by Donald Southerland), is speaking to the U.S. track and field team shortly after the Israeli athletes were killed in a rescue attempt at the airport of the Munich Olympics in 1972.
He says: “If there is one place that war doesn’t belong, it’s here. For 1200 years, from 776BC to 393AD, your fellow Olympians laid down their arms to take part in these games. They understood their was more honor in outrunning a man, than in killing him…the games were once your fellow Olympians answer to war.”
As my wife and I sat watching the opening ceremonies we talked about the various nations that were represented and how impressive it was that nations with fewer people than Phoenix were able to produce world-class athletes. We also talked about the struggles many of them have faced to get there.
Every 4 years the personal interest stories come out about various Olympians, that encourage us to cheer extra hard for them. This year we hear about Simone Biles and her heartbreaking story of drug addicted parents and a foster system that failed her, until her biological grandparents stepped in to save the day. We applaud her tenacity, we praise her grandparents for stepping in, and we marvel at her skills on the various gymnastic elements.
One story that was probably missed by most is that of South Sudan competing in their first Olympics since becoming a country in 2011. Having a special bond with South Sudan because of our trips there to train leaders in Community Health Evangelism, I paid special attention to this nation. Most people probably didn’t recognize them or think much of a nation that sent 3 people, 1 of whom was going to compete as a refugee under the Olympic flag until he recently switched, but I was moved by watching these athletes enter a stadium filled with people to represent a country in turmoil. Five other athletes from South Sudan chose to compete under the Olympic flag as refugees because of the division in their own nation.
Samsung put together a commercial in support of one of the South Sudanese athletes. Leaders in South Sudan and Samsung are both hoping this commercial promotes unity in a time and place that it is sorely needed. Although Margret only competed in one race (200M), finishing last in her heat and 71st out of 72 runners in the event, it wasn’t about the finish. It was about competing. It was about love of country. It was about being the best version of herself that she could possibly be. She finished her race in 26.99 seconds, the best she has ever ran. Maybe in 4 years we will see her in Japan, but more importantly I hope to see many of her fellow countrymen joining her at the opening ceremonies waving their flag proudly because they have put down their weapons and pursued peace.