I love Rio. Spectacular, natural beauty. Dazzling, exploding colors. Lovely, diverse people. Steady, infectious rhythms. Seemingly endless energy.
And I love the Olympics. A global convention of dreamers. Miracles on ice and dream teams. Guts and glory. World records. Pedestals, wreaths, medals, anthems, and tears.
But Rio plus the Olympics has proven controversial with concerns over pollution, health, violence, political strife, economic recession, and corruption.
So, breathtaking beauty and contagious energy on one hand and social injustice and civil unrest on the other. Heck, sounds like Rio is the world. And if the true goal of Olympism is to keep us moving toward a peaceful planet, then why not assemble in a place that exemplifies both the goal and the challenge?
I watched a large chunk of the opening ceremonies but was too old to make it past Liechtenstein in the parade of nations. Next morning, however, I was curious as to who lit the Olympic cauldron. NBC told me it was Vanderlai de Lima, and although I’m a sports fan, I needed a little explanation.
De Lima is neither an Olympic champion nor a Brazilian sports legend. Instead, de Lima competed for Brazil in the marathon at the 2004 Games in Athens and surprisingly led the race at the 22-mile mark. With just four miles to go, however, a crazy dude jumped out of the crowd and attacked de Lima, pulling him into the crowd. Although the attack only detained de Lima for several seconds, it threw him off his pace, and eventually, he was overtaken by two other runners and finished with the bronze medal.
What was striking about de Lima, however, was how he finished the race. No complaints. No anger. Instead, he came down the home stretch blowing kisses and pretending to be an airplane, filled with joy.
That spirit is why he was given the great honor of lighting the cauldron to commence the 2016 Games in Rio. That spirit personifies the Olympic creed that claims, “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
Maybe that spirit is what I sensed in Rio last summer, and why I love it so.