Posted by: ruraleclectic | August 9, 2012

Soundtrack of the Olympics: From National Anthems to the Groanings of the Human Spirit


What is it about the Olympics? I’m pretty sure that I would watch a staring contest if there were Olympic medals up for grabs. If there was an opportunity to be a commentator for the ‘watching the paint dry’ competition, I would be first in line. There’s something specially captivating about the Olympics.

I’m drawn in from the opening ceremonies – way the host nation tells its story and welcomes the world, culminating in the lighting of the torch and declaring the games to be open. I’m a sucker for metaphor, story, and tradition. Needless to say, I am all in. The parade of nations gets me choked up, watching the joy on hopeful faces as they represent their nation and heritage. I also appreciate the geography lesson that inevitably accompanies the parade. I’m embarrassed to say, I rely a little too much on maps and Wikipedia to fill in some blanks.

As the games begin, I cheer for my country and the athletes who represent me – us. I marvel at their discipline and focus; their years-long drive to be at that particular place and time. Patriotism practically explodes within me as the U.S. faces off against the Russians. When the Russian athletes step up to compete I hear the heavy chords Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, and see the film reels of the Soviet Army marching through Red Square, and feel the cold and desolation of Siberia, and I want to come out victorious over all that I was told about the Communists as I was growing up. Every time the National Anthem is played during a medal ceremony I want to jump up and sing in my own special, off-key-and-full-of-pride-tears-welling-up-inside voice. And in my mind, I see visions of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and all good things American. The soundtrack to the Olympics is the National Anthem I call my own.

Then it happens…

After the commercial break the camera focuses on the first female athlete from Saudi Arabia ever to represent her country on the Olympic stage as she stretches and prepares to take her mark. Immediately I know two things: she doesn’t have a chance of competing against the others in her field, and I want her to win more than I want anything else at that moment. I have never heard the Saudi national anthem, but I would REALLY like to hear it played to honor her, and her gold medal.

Then I hear the story of Kirani James, and how he’s the favorite to medal – the first ever medal for Grenada. I see the faces of the Grenadians and hear the stories of its people.

I hear the cheers rising for the “Sculling Sloth” Hamadou Djibo Issaka, the Nigerian rower who finishes dead last in his race, because he’s only been practicing for three months in a small fishing boat. He rows proudly as he gets to represent his country. I would like to hear his national anthem, too….

Soon I realize that my patriotism hasn’t waned, but my heart has opened to the human stories that emerge much larger than the results of the competition. I am a human fan. The anthems begin to recede into the background and the groanings of the human spirit raise their melodious and sometimes discordant strains over the steady beat of human endurance. Little by little we become much more alike than we are different, slowly edging toward becoming one human family.

Then all too soon the games are over and we all go back home to our own country, our own culture, our own anthems until we gather again under the light of the Olympic torch.


  1. Missy- Love this post!! You have so eloquently summed up my last two weeks. There is something so special about all of the Olympic stories, those from the USA and around the world.

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