National Pride Is Strong Motivating Force for Olympic Athletes


For 21 days in August, more than 10,000 athletes from around the world will compete in the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.  While they come in pursuit of personal dreams, they will also represent their respective countries. For spectators and supporters from the more than 200 countries participating, the Olympics are a chance to cheer for their countrymen and women.  For the athletes themselves, national pride is a powerful motivator. VOA's Brian Padden has the story, with additional reporting by Nico Colombant and Kari Barber in Dakar, Michael O’Sullivan in Los Angeles,  and Jim Teeple in the Palestinian Territory. (Part 5 of 5) 

Aminata Diouf will soon abandon her beauty salon business to represent Senegal in track and field at the Beijing Olympics.  This will be her third trip to the Olympics. She says the experience is always emotional.   "I feel like an ambassador, who is very proud.  It is this motivation that makes you want to train at two hundred percent of your abilities. The goal is to satisfy an entire nation," she says.

While the Olympic charter stresses peaceful competition, it is also a time of surging national pride. Olympic historian David Wallechinsky says for years the International Olympic Committee tried to limit the focus on nationalism by refusing to release national medal totals. 

"I mean, in the main press center, everybody is creating their own national medal total.  So finally they said, 'OK we are going to put a billboard up to show you the national medal total, but we are not going to talk about it.  You can do whatever you want.'  And then finally it's even on the website of the International Olympic Committee," said Wallechinsky.

Patriotism can give athletes a sense of purpose beyond personal achievement. 

Palestinian sprinter Ghadeer Ghroof, 17,  says she hopes that by competing in the Olympics she can bring international attention to the plight of her people. "I am going to represent Palestine, a country that is considered by many to be an irrelevant place.  It is not irrelevant.  It has people like us - educated people. It has concerned and educated people, and I am going to prove that to them at the Olympic games," she said.

Pride in an Olympic athletes can unite, if only for a short time, an entire nation.

In the 2004 Athens Olympics, the Iraqi soccer team's unexpected success, making it all the way to the semi-finals, became a symbol of unity and hope to a nation in the clutch of daily violence. Former Parlympian John Register works with the U.S. Olympic Committee's program for physically handicapped athletes. He says the Olympics can also be a place of reconciliation for enemies.  

"The greatest vision I could have, would be somebody that is injured and becomes a Paralympics athlete from the United States and somebody who is injured and becomes a Paralympics athlete from Iraq or Afghanistan sitting down at a future Olympic games sharing their stories," said Register.

Most Olympic athletes understand that how they conduct themselves at the games will reflect upon their countries. "You have to stand a little bit taller and definitely remember that there's all those other people behind you too," says modern pentathlon athlete Mickey Kelly, who  is also a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.  "So it's a great way to show your respect back to your country and for me back to the military."

With the eyes of their nations upon them, these athletes say the best they can do is do their best.


This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs