This year’s London Olympics certainly provided enough courage, controversy, and amazing feats to fuel conversations for some time to come. From the high (literally; Canadian trampolinist Rosie MacLennan’s gold medal performance was something to behold) to the low (the rigged badminton matches that resulted in four teams being disqualified), the Games of the XXX Olympiad had something for everyone.
Almost all the participants in the Games are amateurs, pursuing their sport because – well, in the words of Everest climber George Mallory, because it’s there, and they have to. Most of them toil in relative obscurity, training day in and day out far from the glare of the spotlight, which makes their achievements on the world stage even more impressive. Just a sample:
Captain Canada, equestrian competitor Ian Millar, who at age 65 competed in his record-setting 10th Olympiad, and hasn’t ruled out an appearance in Rio in 2016. At an age when most people are embracing retirement, silver-medallist Millar refuses to rest on his laurels.
Christine Sinclair and her teammates on the Canadian women’s soccer team, who suffered a heart-breaking semi-final loss and then rallied to capture the bronze medal in a stunning display of of teamwork and athletic prowess.
Swimmer Ryan Cochrane, who spent four years determined to improve on his bronze medal in 2008, and worked his way – one gruelling lap after another – up to a silver this year.
Nate Brannen, who was spiked during his 1500 metre running heat, fell, then picked himself up and managed to finish in the middle of the pack. He didn’t advance, but he showed Olympian levels of grit and determination.
For an even more heroic display, though, look no further than 16 year old Benjamin Schulte of Guam, who finished last in the gruelling 10 km men’s open water swim. To get an idea of what it’s like to swim 10 km, go down to your local pool and swim one lap. Then swim another. Then swim 398 more. To do it in Schulte’s time – remember, he finished last, more than 10 minutes behind everyone else – swim each lap in under 20 seconds.
He was behind the pack for the entire race. When he finished, everyone else had gone. He could have quit at any time – with two laps to go he wanted to quit – and no one would have blamed him. But he didn’t quit. He kept swimming, and he finished his race, completing the task he had come to London to do.
In my books, Benjamin Schulte is a hero, and so is everyone else who gave their all in London over two amazing weeks. Perhaps – just perhaps – we could put aside the manufactured “celebrities” from reality TV, and hold the Sinclairs and Brannens and Schultes of this world up as role models, for ourselves and our children and grandchildren. The world would, I think, be a different – and better – place if we did.