In 1896, French athlete Pierre de Cubertin founded the modern Olympics, reviving the ancient tradition of sports first practiced by the Greeks in 776 B.C. and continued for nearly 12 centuries until eventually banned as a pagan ritual.
The modern Olympics have grown beyond what anyone could have ever imagined. As I watched the Sochi Closing Ceremony, one of the U.S. commentators was Cris Collinsworth, a former National Football League star with a passion for all sports. He said to truly appreciate the Olympics, you have to see them in person. “Put them on your bucket list,” he said, referring to doing things most important to you before you die.
Chinese fans cheer at the Water Cube in Beijing.
I have had the good fortune as a former VOA sports reporter to attend several Olympics. I even sat with Cris during the 2008 swimming competition in Beijing. I met and spoke with world-class athletes, witnessed many astonishing performances, felt the thundering and deafening roar of every spectator in a packed stadium reacting simultaneously to a singular event.
Cris’ comment coming through my high definition tv made me think if it was still true that “you had to be there.” Comparing what I saw in “real definition,” I can attest watching on modern television is in many ways better. The close up perspectives, sweeping panoramic shots, super slow motion replays all display the action as you could never see it from a stadium seat or standing on the sidelines.
What is different is experiencing the intangibles. Meeting people from all around the world, seeing famous landmarks and actually touching them, smelling and tasting food served in its country of origin, starting each day with the anticipation of things good and unexpected.
I’m not certain of my chances to return to Asia for the next winter games in PyeongChang, South Korea, or the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. I know most people will never have the opportunity to see the Olympics in person. But I do know the competition is now widely shared with stunning clarity, and those watching indeed feel a little closer and more untied for 16 brief days every year the Olympics are held.