Despite Distractions, Olympics Inspire Awe

Amid a summer of uncertainty, we can count on athletes to put on a world-class show in Rio

Olympic Rings Rio
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Like pesky (and potentially dangerous) mosquitoes, distractions swirl around the 31st Summer Olympic Games, set to open Friday in Rio de Janeiro.

Zika fears, along with reports of shaky preparations in Brazil and fallout from the banning of some 110 Russian athletes for alleged doping violations, mount amid a summer already filled with more than its share of turmoil and uncertainty.

But there's one thing we can count on: a breathtaking display of (presumably performance-enhancing-substance-free) prowess and pride by world-class athletes from around the globe.

If that sound corny, well, it is. But it’s also true: Competitors in more than 300 events, from archery to wrestling, are poised to produce Rio 2016’s most momentous drama as they vie for Olympic glory, which still means something (beyond endorsement deals).

That’s not an excuse to forget the controversies, including Brazil’s $10 billion Olympics investment, which, as it’s been pointed out, is far more than the struggling country is spending to fight the Zika virus.

The games, though, pack powerful numbers of their own: some 10,500 athletes from more than 200 countries who are expected to draw billions of eyes over 19 days, beginning with the igniting of the Olympic cauldron in Maracanã Stadium.

It's naive to expect any worldwide, heartwarming "Kumbaya" moments in Friday’s opening ceremony or in the athletic events. But the games may be the closest our planet gets to the heart of universal kinship and unspoken understanding.

All spectators, viewing from the stands and on screens around the world, need to do is arrive willing to be surprised and inspired. The athletes have trained for years, but our job this month is easy: Just sit back and watch the Olympians defy perceived limits of the body and spirit in a bid to soar far beyond the distractions.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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