In the months leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the media coverage focused on all the issues plaguing Brazil as it prepared to host the international athletic competition. These ranged from Zika virus and polluted water with super bacteria to political corruption and potential violence; it seemed as if the first Olympics held in South America was going to be a disaster, but, over a week into the competition, the focus has shifted from the numerous problems chronicled prior to the Opening Ceremony to the inspiring stories of the world’s best athletes accomplishing incredible feats.
Michael Phelps came back to prove to himself and the world that he could overcome personal setbacks as one of the greatest Olympians ever. Also, Katie Ledecky is shattering her own world records in the pool, and Usain Bolt returned to the track, after suffering a leg injury that put his Olympics in doubt, to win his third consecutive 100-meter dash, becoming the most dominant male sprinter in history. Simone Biles is being crowned the best female gymnast ever after winning five medals, including four gold, and Wu Minxia of China is now the greatest champion in Olympic diving history.
Simone Manuel became the first female African-American swimmer to win an individual medal. Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim-American athlete compete in hijab and helped the sabre fencing team win a bronze medal. Rugby player Jillion Potter recovered from a broken neck suffered in 2010 and overcame a cancer diagnosis in 2014 to become a captain of the USA’s Sevens Team. After saving 20 lives by swimming and pushing their boat in the Mediterranean Sea for three hours in their escape from war-torn Syria, Yusra Mardini won her swimming heat as a competitor for the first International Refugee team.
What these stories highlight is the fact that, even in tough times and precarious situations, sports give athletes the platform to be able to rise above these circumstances and inspire others. In a world of conflict, the Olympics represent a unifying force that brings people from all different backgrounds together to compete to the best of their ability.
The power of sports to transcend barriers that might not otherwise be crossed should not be taken lightly. Sports, besides being a fun way to exercise, are an incredible tool for developing interpersonal, communication, leadership, and teamwork skills while learning about respect, tolerance, responsibility, and sportsmanship. With all the negativity in the news today, the Olympics is an outlet to show us how sports can create a sense of community between athletes from different countries and backgrounds and is a shining example of what humanity can achieve when we work together toward common goals.