The Olympics ended three days ago. It was a different event this year. It had been delayed by a year due to the covid pandemic and spectators were not allowed to attend this year, for the same reason.
One other reason that the Tokyo Olympics were controversial even before the Games started was because of announced and planned protests by athletes. Most vocal was the US Women’s Soccer Team and US Women’s Hammer Thrower Gwen Berry, who placed third at the US Olympic trials and said that she was “pissed” that the national anthem was played while she and other athletes were on the podium at the Olympic trials because she is not going to represent her country, but to represent all the people that it has oppressed.
While several athletes decided that the Olympics was the place to protest and call out the bad things of the country they were representing, there was another side. A side that showed exactly why the United States can be proud and show that no matter what your demographic identity, you could be proud of your country and what it actually represents.
The Olympics is, first and foremost, an international athletic competition among athletes representing every nation in the world. It is a showcase of excellence and achievement. In that showcase in Tokyo, the United States won the most gold medals and the most medals overall. In and of itself, that is an achievement.
The most famous Olympic athlete in the US, if not the world, was Simon Biles. An American sweetheart, Biles is an African-American who is probably the greatest gymnast in history after dominating Olympic and World competitions for years, and transforming the sport.
Shortly after the Games began, Biles developed health concerns that kept her out of many events. In a display of the “team” part of that team sport, Suni Lee stepped in and replaced Biles in events where Lee had not been scheduled to complete. In a storybook ending, Lee won the gold medal in the All Around competition and took a broze in the Uneven Bars.
Lee is a first generation American of Hmong descent. Her mother is an immigrant from Laos who came to this country with almost nothing.
The other most recognizable US Olympian was probably Katie Ledeky. She is also considered among the best female athletes in her sport in history, having won seven Olympic and fifteen World Championship gold medals prior to arriving in Tokyo. She won a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle at age 15 in the London Olympics, after beating the 2nd place finisher by full two seconds. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, she was the most decorated female athlete with four golds and a silver, including two world records.
Ledeky, whose grandfather immigrated from Czechoslovakia, continued her streak by adding two gold and two silver medals this year and said she plans to compete again in the next Olympics when she will be 27 years old.
Tamyra Mensah-Stock is a wrestler for the United States. A first generation American, her father moved to the United States from Ghana. Mensah-Stock became the first female Black American wrestler to win Olympic Gold. A first generation American who did something no other American has ever done. After winning her championship match, she wrapped herself in the flag and declared “I love representing the U.S., I freaking love living here,.” and talked about the opportunity she has had in this country.
Sydney McLaughlin smashed her own world record in the 400-meter hurdles. After winning and setting the new world record, McLaughlin said in a post-race interview: “Giving the glory to God,…And [I’m] just really grateful to be able to represent my country and to have this opportunity.”
For much of the games, the US women led the way, as the men’s track team did not win an individual gold medal and the men’s swim team did not have a dominant force, as Michael Phelps had been for so long. However, the US men had their own moments of highlights and the Men’s Basketball brought home the gold for the fourth straight time.
Those anecdotal stories are just part of the picture.
So it really depends how you look at it, doesn’t it? The Women’s Soccer Team choose to look at the bad, the past and the work still to be done. And there is little doubt that there is still work to be done in some areas of social justice. Yet, when this author looks at the Olympics and the members of the Team USA, I see a microcosm and celebration of what America is and can be: a team where there is no consideration or even acknowledgement of a person’s background but only whether they excel and represent the best that our country has. A team where individual’s whose families decided to legally come to this country for a better life are well represented, because in the USA the thing that matters is your talent and not your place or country of origin. And, yes, even people such as Gwen Berry, who claims she is not representing her country and hates what it stands for, are on the team, because nothing matters but your ability even if there is hate for the country you represent. And THAT is the greatness of America. And the USA’s Olympic team includes people of all of those backgrounds, not because we had a quota or choose people by their backgrounds but precisely because we refused to do that, and only took the best there were and then people from all backgrounds qualified naturally. For that, we can be proud. That is the promise of America.