The Olympics – The Cradle of the Best and The Worst

August 22, 2012

The London 2012 Olympics has come and gone; the drama, the passion, the joy of victory and the agony of defeat have dissipated; so what remains? For me there are a number of abiding memories; of course who can forget Usain Bolt’s celebration or Jessica Ennis’s relief however my two most poignant moments concerned two less famous Olympians. Between them they represent much more than the medals they won or the performances they gave rather they represent the epitome of the opposites that haunt every aspect of the human condition. One is a hero in my mind while the other a villain. One is an example of the amazing spirit of good sportsmanship and the other the exact opposite. Both are Americans and also represent the dichotomy that makes that great country so confusing to outsiders: incorporating the best of the best and the worst of the worse.

The two athletes in question are Galen Rupp and Abbey Wombat. Galen won a silver medal in the 10,000 meters coming second to his training partner Mo Ferrah, the British long distance runner winning before an ecstatic home crowd. The joint celebration of these two athletes was such a joy to witness, Rupp seemed to revel in his friend’s victory and Olympian sportsmanship does not get any better. Abbey Wombat was playing for the American soccer team against the Canadians and won an unconvincing victory due primarily to one of the bizarest calls in soccer history. The ref awarded an indirect free kick in the penalty area for the goalie holding the ball too long. Never in all my years as a fan of the beautiful game have I witnessed such a thing. (neither had any other commentator that I checked). In properly officiated games when the goalkeeper is deliberately delaying the game, the ref gives a yellow card and tells him to get on with it. The consequence of this first bad call was a free kick blasted at the Canadian wall of players and a second atrocious refereeing decision, a penalty awarded for what was clearly ball to hand. At this point, I found myself engaging in conspiracy theories (like NBC being the major beneficiary of a USA vs Japan final), however I had no idea of the outrageous lack of sportsmanship by Abbey Wombat who tweeted triumphantly that she was standing in the ref’s ear counting the seconds that elapsed while Erin McCleod the Canadian goal keeper held the ball and helped influence the outcome. How sad to not only be so unsporting but then to brag about it.

On this journey we call life, I have learned that one of the great soul challenges is learning to hold the opposites that we encounter: good/bad, light/dark, joy/sadness, life/death, sickness/health, and the United States of America. Many of my dearest and closest friends including my spiritual teacher are Americans; they are some of the most conscious, caring and enlightened people I have ever met yet their country manifests the opposites to a degree I don’t believe exists elsewhere. For example their insane gun control, attitudes to health care and same sex relationships represent conflicts that are not issues in any other developed country. It is as though part of the US has never grown up; unfortunately at times it behaves like a willful, spoilt child given far too much power and dangerous weapons at too young an age. After I had drafted my blog I tuned into PBS (another of those bests) and watched Leonard Cohen live in London. I realized he summarized this paradox in his song Democracy over 20 years ago.

It’s coming to America first, the cradle of the best and of the worst. It’s here they got the range and the machinery for change and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst. It’s here the family’s broken and it’s here the lonely say that the heart has got to open in a fundamental way: Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.