Leaders in London

by Joe Lavelle on August 2, 2012

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Are you getting caught up in the excitement of the Olympics?  Do you love the fact that in addition to the marquee events like gymnastics and swimming, this is one of our rare opportunities to watch sports like fencing and handball?  Or, does this quadrennial event not even earn a blip on your attention radar?

I admit I always enjoy the parade of nations that is the featured moment of the opening ceremony.  From the large contigents such as those brought by the United States, China, and Great Britain, to the smaller island nations with names that you may not hear again until the next Olympic games, the men and women who march out wearing their country’s uniform and proudly waving their flag do so as leaders.  They are the face of a nation, at least for that night.

Once on the field or the court or the diving board, the characteristics of a leader continue to be important.  These athletes must show confidence in their skills and make bold decisions that seal their victory or defeat.  Beyond the score, though, athletes on the Olympic stage are often, at least in the eyes of their countrymen, representing a political ideology, an alliance in a current point of world tension, or a cultural issue.

When Jesse Owens stood on the podium at Hitler’s games in Berlin, he was disproving the racist notions of the German tyrant.  When the United States faced off against the Soviet Union on the ice in 1980, that wasn’t just a hockey match. That was a symbolic confrontation of the planet’s two superpowers.  And this week, when the handful of athletes from Syria participate in their sport of choice, they are putting a spotlight on the current civil war that it devastating that country.

Do you pay attention to the political stories behind the games?  Do you think the athletes often realize the leadership position they take on behalf of their countries, or are they purely focused on the events for which they have trained?


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