Olympics flame the fire of peace

The Winter Olympic Games are growing closer by the day, and with them, the ongoing hope for peace through sport. Every two years the world pauses, taking a break from political grandstanding and chest-pounding for a few weeks of friendly contests in the arenas of summer or wintertime athletics.

The notion of the Olympic Truce dates back to the 9th Century BC, an agreement between three kings in Ancient Greece. The tradition continues today.

For the 2018 Games in February, the region of PyeongChang in South Korea will become the epicenter of competition and camaraderie for more than 100 medal events.

The host nation, which builds or improves a dozen competition venues, provides athlete housing and rolls out the red carpet for the world, and is in turn celebrated in stories and song, from opening to closing ceremonies, and all kinds of activities in between. Through seemingly endless media coverage, the country is featured for its beauty, history and culture to a global audience of millions.

That’s no small undertaking for a nation just miles away from an escalating nuclear threat from North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

The Games are reportedly on the agenda for talks today between North and South Korea, after the International Olympic Committee announced Monday the extension of the deadline for North Korean athletes to qualify for competition, pending the outcome of the meetings.

The IOC obviously makes every effort to give opportunities to deserving athletes, regardless of politics, creating a safe realm for competitors of all colors, races, and creeds. The Committee focuses on the things that unite all nations, rather than the conflicts that divide them.

Every sport brings a unique set of skills and challenges; every athlete, a story of commitment and sacrifice in the pursuit of a common dream: to represent their country competing among the best in the world.

An international audience of millions will tune in daily for the marquis sports as well as the more obscure events. We learn the basic rules of each sport, see the athletes’ biographical backgrounds, and root for those in red, white and blue; knowing that in dozens of other countries, families in other parts of the world are cheering for their athletes, wearing the colors of their flags, with every bit as much enthusiasm and pride as ours.

For the US, gold medals quickly become the standard, the expectation; but for many other nations, any hardware would make history. And for others, just the chance to be there is the ultimate victory.

Beyond the medal counts, media coverage and corporate endorsements, the Olympics prove that, for a few weeks at least, the world can put sportsmanship and friendship above power and politics, and set an example of peace. If only it could last forever.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.