Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Olympic Spirit

Like many Americans and people around the world, I've spent the better part of two weeks following the Winter Olympics. As I sit here anxiously awaiting the start of the gold medal hockey game, I truly feel the Olympic spirit. Even thought the Olympics has been thoroughly commercialized and includes, in the case of hockey and other sports, well-paid professional athletes, I would argue that there still is something very special about the Olympic games. As someone who believes in the power of sports, I would argue that the Olympics are an important political event, too, because they promote political understanding through athletic competition.
Political importance aside, you are probably wondering what, if anything, the Olympics can teach us about life in middle school? I think that answer lies in what the Olympics teaches us about courage, commitment, and determination.

I always feel more of a personal connection to Olympic athletes, many who toil for years and years with minimal recognition and even less financial support. They put in countless hours in pursuit of their dreams. They seem so much more like...everyone else. One of my early winter Olympic memories is the heart-wrenching saga of speedskater Dan Jansen. His sister died just hours before he took the ice in Calgary (1988) and he proceeded to fall, ruining his gold medal hopes. Not willing to give up on his dreams, Jansen trained for another opportunity 4 years later in Albertville, France...only to lose again and finish out of medal contention (4th place). But, Jansen simply would not give up. Knowing that the Olympics would be in 2 years instead of the customary 4 years (after 1992, the International Olympic Committee decided to alternate the winter and summer games), Jansen decided to stick it out and make one more run at a gold medal. When he took the ice in Lillehammer, Norway, he lost again in the race that he was favored to win (500 meters), leaving him one final race in his Olympic career...and an minimal chance of winning an Olympic medal. If you know about Jansen's career (of you've seen the Visa commercial throughout this Olympics), you know what happened next. He won the gold medal, and took a victory lap around the rink with his daughter, named Jane after his sister who passed away in 1988.
Therein lie the ultimate Olympic lessons that we can share with our middle school students:
1. Try your best even if no one is watching.
2. Do things for the right reasons, not just money and fame.
3. Win and lose with grace.
4. Never forget who you are and who you represent.
And most importantly,
5. Never give up on your dreams.

Thanks again for reading. As always, I welcome your comments. Enjoy the final two weeks before Spring Break,

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