When you compete at the Olympics, you do so with the knowledge that the whole world is watching. 207 teams walked in the stunning parade of nations to the backdrop of samba music at the opening ceremony this year, each with their own loyal supporters. Perhaps more important than the pride of individual nations, however, is the inspiring stories about different groups supporting each other and celebrating together.
There have been some historic, inspiring moments achievements at this Olympic Games. The first Puerto Rican Olympic Gold medal was won by Monica Pueg in the women’s tennis, and the UK is winning medals in areas it never has before. The overwhelming emotion was just too much for her as the Puerto Rican national anthem was played, as it would be for any Olympian to be the first to ever win gold for their country.
One story that’s taken the world by storm was the story of Lee Eun-ju and Hong Un-Jong, two young athletes from South and North Korea,
respectively, who stunned audiences both in the arena and around the world, when they buddied up and took a selfie together. An iconic moment for both the athletes and spectators at home, for anyone who knows the tumultuous history of the two neighbouring countries. Although the two countries are technically still at war, it was a beautiful and heart-warming sight for everyone, restoring our faith in humanity, as it was only earlier this month that North Korea tested missiles nearby. It is a true testament to the competition, that above everything, there is unity among those who are perceived in the public to be foes.
With the present world in such international turmoil, it’s incredible to see people coming together to celebrate their achievements. Another example of individual success leading to an impressive achievement all on its own, is the impact of the migrant refugee crisis, which has led to the IOC instituting the first ever team of refugees. The team consisting of ten athletes from countries such as South Sudan, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thus far, none of these athletes have made it through to the final of their sport, but does it matter? The awareness raised of their stories, struggles, and achievements has been fantastic, and you can’t help but root for them, no matter where you’re from.
It’s not just international turmoil that makes some of the achievements so inspiring. Domestically in the United States there has been huge amounts of controversy surrounding systematic racism, particularly the treatment of black people in the country. In light of this, the racial diversity in the Olympic team the US has put forward is incredible, and their achievements are momentous. With great black athletes being Olympic champion over decades, such as Jesse Owens in the 1930s, stunning the world win his iconic win at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. To the iconic photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ iconic picture saluting solidarity, amongst the time of the Civil Rights Movement, something which remains symbolic to the movement today. As well as Michael Johnson, smashing the 200m and 400m records 20 years ago at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He is still considered to be one of the most successful sprinters of all time. This leads us to the introduction and achievement of American swimmer, Simone Manuel, who won gold in the 100m Olympic Freestyle and set an Olympic Record. She is the first black woman to ever win gold in a swimming event. Overcome with such emotion whilst receiving her medal, fans flocked to her side, highlighting the importance of her win, not only as a great athlete, but to show the forward moving success of black athletes. It is a great sight for anyone to see, especially with the tragic events taken place in the US over the past months.
Similarly, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, and Laurie Hernandez have been inspirational to young BME girls in America for their huge achievements as part of the gymnastics team competing in the Olympics. Simone Biles is an incredibly powerful athlete, with some commentators expecting her to win 5 gold medals this Olympics. She’s already broken records by being the first American to win 3 gymnastics golds in one Olympics, and the first to win gold on Vault. She made the powerful statement: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt, I’m not the next Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
This year, too, women are competing in hijabs from Saudi Arabia and the United States for the first time. Ibtihaj Muhammad won a bronze medal for the United States in women’s saber fencing. She has spoken throughout the Olympics about challenging cultural norms and misconceptions about Muslim women, both from within and outside the Muslim community.
An athlete from Singapore, Joseph Schooling, was the first from the country to ever make the final of an Olympic swimming competition, and proceeded to come in first place, winning the country’s first ever gold medal. Rio is Schooling’s second Olympics, and it’s the second time he’s raced against his childhood hero, Michael Phelps.
The whole world comes together during the Olympics, to those sitting in the stands to those yelling at their television screen, to celebrate the achievements of their countries and those of others. But the diverse achievements of individuals from all over the world, both sporting and supporting, are truly worthy of celebrations, regardless of where you come from.