The word “athletics” comes from the Greek word “athleo,” which, when translated, means “striving for mastery.” Struggling for the mastery of a sport has never been more real than it was for the ancient Olympians. The stakes of competition were higher, as were the risks. No ambulances waited on the sidelines as unclothed contenders raced along rocky courses or wrestled each other down into the dust. Men competed despite the threat of severe injury—or even death—in the hopes of gaining elusive honor.
The modern Olympics are remarkably different from those of the ancient Greeks. Today’s Olympians do not barter their lives. Competitors benefit from cautious trainers, ice packs on the sidelines, and lines of stretchers ready at a moment’s notice. Nor are today’s winners granted lifelong glory. Within a year, or even perhaps a few months, Olympians become fuzzy memories in the minds of their countrymen. If not honor, nor glory, nor even the promise of a comfortable life, what would drive individuals to put their health and safety at such great risk?
When you watch coverage of the Olympics, you will notice that programs devote only seconds to the moment of victory, covering the competition itself almost as an afterthought. For programs and for viewers, the games are appreciated as tests of the human physique, but the magic of the Olympics begins many years before they occur.
It is the story behind the champion which Americans value. We value people who have risen above their situation and those motivated by an inherent love of their country. But above all, we desire to see people who have honored their dreams, who have pursued and perfected their talents to the highest degree. Because in this world—in a world of quick fixes, of immediate information and instant gratification—to love something enough to devote your life to it is not only an anomaly; it is a miracle. And so, the footage of training, the inspirational music, and the tearful biographies have become our focus, rather than the games themselves. Now, the moment of victory becomes beautiful to us not because it represents talent or strength, but because it represents one of the rare moments when the entire world remembers that dreams are worth pursuing.
The American public, and particularly my instant-gratification generation, needs to be reminded that dreams are worth pursuing. No event serves as a better reminder of this than the Olympic Games, and no venue provides as much access to young adults as social media. I propose that major news networks covering the London 2012 Olympics begin their coverage of the games with a simple question: “What is your dream?” Accepting responses on Twitter with the hashtag #mydreamis, at the end of the week, news networks can compile some of the best results from both young adults and athletes alike. Though transient in nature, I believe that this campaign would be effective because the simple act of remembering your dream is the catalyst for pursuing it.