Every four years (until 1994), the Olympic cauldron is ignited and a couple weeks later, it is extinguished. From the Games of the IX Olympiad in Amsterdam in 1928, that flame has inspired multiple generations of athletes and non-athletes alike. The five rings interlaced represent the five parts of the world where countries compete in the Games: Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. The five rings also represent passion, faith, victory, work ethic and sportsmanship. These symbols have filled us with the spectacle, the intangibles, and the stories that light up our minds to endless possibilities.
From 1896 in Athens, Greece, to the first games contested in the USA in 1904 (St. Louis, Missouri) to the debut of the Winter Games and their accompaniment of their Summer counterparts in 1924 (both in France by the way—Paris for the Summer, Chaminox, France for the Winter), to the first of two appearances the Summer Games made in Los Angeles in 1932, to the heartbreak that was cancelling two editions of the Olympics during World War II, the Olympic movement stood for something this world needed badly, and really needs in current times.
The Olympics came back in 1948 after 12 year layoff due to WWII in London, UK. The Winter Games that year were competed in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. 1952, Helsinki, 1954, Melbourne, in 1960, Rome hosted, ’64, Mexico City, ’68, Tokyo, and in 1972 in Munich, Germany, the world was shocked to a core when eight Palestinian terrorists murdered eleven Israeli athletes. The Games went on, finished, and in 1976, Montréal picked up the baton for the XXI edition of the Summer Games. 1980 was Moscow’s show and the USA famously boycotted these, and yes, payback meant the USSR boycotted our 1984 Los Angeles Games.
We all know the story from Lake Placid, NY when a semifinal hockey game between the US and USSR was much more than the 4-3 game indicated on that February 22, 1980 evening. Few less on that night knew that about a decade later, the USSR would collapse. Eight years later, the Summer Games were in South Korea for the first time in Seoul. 1992 was a telling year for the Olympic movement since it was the last time the Summer and Winter Games would be held the same year in Barcelona (summer) and Albertville (winter). 1994, Lillehammer, Norway, 1996, Atlanta, 1998, Nagano, Japan, 2000, Sydney, 2002, Salt Lake City, 2004, Athens, 2006 Torino, and we zoom up to the here and now, 2008 in Beijing. Many stories could be told from all of those Games. Heaven knows I could entertain many with an encyclopedic knowledge of all of those events, but that’s not the point of this blog entry. To prove my trivial knowledge, did you know that in 1954 the equestrian events were held in Stockholm, Sweden five months prior to the Games only the second time the same Olympics were held in two different countries. The other time was the Antwerp, Belgium Games in 1920. One sailing event was on Dutch waters.
Many of you are probably thinking, why is a punk graduate student from Mayo writing an op-ed or a blog on the Olympics? The reason lies in the importance of these Games to the world, and what and how their impact will reverberate on the world. It is the first time that the country with the largest population in the world has hosted them. More than 1/5th of humanity lives there, yet they haven’t been ready to host these till now. And if you think back 20 years, they weren’t even close then. Not even the most optimistic Chinese citizen must have even dreamed when they saved our 1984 Summer Games (the ones USSR boycotted), that 24 years later, they would be marching to the drum of their own Games.
I write this blog because of a prevailing necessity to realize the urgency of the moment. The point of this isn’t political. The point of this is to remember we live in a very global society, and the US society in a lot of ways is still living back in the mid 1900s with no recollection of this. Maybe not in science or research, but in many other areas. We also live in a world where racism, sexism, and all the other “isms” are unacceptably practiced everyday. I write this on Mayo’s stage because we have always been a leader in the health care society and in research. We need to take that a step farther and be a leader in society. In the world at large in more than just fulfilling the needs of the patient. We work together in extraordinary ways at Mayo, and we need to convey that message to the world. I urge each and everybody who reads this to dig deep within themselves to realize the importance of the moment. Why? Anyone who watched the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Games realizes that China has arrived and woken to the world stage in many ways. Maybe not on the issues of Darfur and human rights, but on other platforms.
The happiness, joy, and prosperity this Olympiad seems to bring to the Chinese is heart-warming. In the months and years ahead, we will be challenged to work together like we did to put on a successful Games, and I hope we take those opportunities to chart a better course. We live in a global society in every sense of the imagination. In research, we can transfer knowledge, information, and reagents very quickly from each corner of the globe. In medicine, we can send patients’ chart from Seattle to New York to Rome to Auckland to Tokyo in a blink of an eye. By working together we can make this a better place, especially given the state of US right now (I said I wouldn’t get political so I won’t). In order to conquer the many disease states we all think about every day, we need this.
I know everyone at Mayo knows these things, I just bring them up as we reflect on what we are seeing from the time zone 13 hours ahead of ours. Our mission is to help other people witness it, starting one at a time. Without these efforts, we could miss an unbelievable opportunity to change this country and this world for the better. Every generation has an opportunity to shape their lives (and future generations). I believe this is our first huge go-around at impacting the face of the earth.
I don’t know how China will look after this is all over, but I know that it looks spectacular from here. Kudos to Beijing organizers, the IOC, the 75,000 volunteers, and especially the athletes for making this a special event for everyone.
Let’s make hope happen in the world today!
Gōngxǐ China! Gōngxǐ Beijing! Gōngxǐ Mayo! Gōngxǐ! Gōngxǐ!