Go ahead, wave that U.S. flag with pride. And it’s even OK to trot around in your red, white and blue shorts if you have a pair. But regardless of whatever patriotic attire might be buried in your drawer or closet, now is the time to just feel good about being an American.
The reason why I am espousing those sentiments here today is simple: We’re Number One! And in a very important category. Our country might not be doing so well with trade or budget deficits, but by George we have won the most medals at the Summer Olympics now winding down in London.
As of Friday afternoon, the medal count stood at 83 for the U.S., 12 better than China, our closest rival in the latest edition of the Games. It could be said that they “own” us in a financial sense, but we are edging out the Chinese in all three levels: gold, silver and bronze.
Now, some observers might rightfully question the importance of the Olympics in the modern world, given that the event originated in Ancient Greece and included such archaic contests as chariot races. Men and women running around throwing javelins or playing badminton might be seen as little more than frivolous activities with all the troubles Earth is facing.
But when you break the situation down, the value of the Olympics not only lies with bringing together all the world’s peoples to showcase the best athletic talent available, but highlighting qualities of sportsmanship and perseverance. Success in the Olympics is a result of hard work, dedication, determination and similar traits that also are vital in business, education, the military — pretty much every worthwhile endeavor in life.
So with millions unemployed in America, the economy staggering and no real sign of hope on the horizon, it’s refreshing to know the U.S. continues to possess the core qualities of a superpower at least. We can still lace up our shoes, put on our tights and go out there and kick the rest of the world’s butt.
The U.S. accomplishments in the Olympics are even more remarkable considering its competitors don’t have the luxury of being government-backed, as are their Chinese counterparts. After the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Beijing made an investment in a national sports movement by undertaking a massive state-sponsored effort called Project 119 which was designed to win gold medals in 119 sports.
Meanwhile, American athletes are pretty much on their own, with the exception of pro basketball players and high-profile Olympians with huge endorsement deals such as swimmer Michael Phelps — who have tremendous support staffs at their disposal.
Most of our Olympians train quietly in dingy gymnasiums or on lonely fields to prepare for the chance to some day compete not only in popular sports such as women’s beach volleyball, but more obscure ones such as archery or field hockey.
The journey to London for weightlifter Sarah Robles, for example, included being nearly homeless and having to survive on food bank donations along with $400 per month from the USA Weightlifting organization. That sum is about what a pro hoops player might spend in one night at a topless club.
And it was revealed this week that the mother of Gabby Douglas, a gold-medal winner in gymnastics for the United States, had filed for bankruptcy as a result of Douglas’ father abandoning his family.
Yet, there we are — right at the top of the leader board on a world stage.
It just goes to show that while we might have problems with home foreclosures and high gas prices, the American fighting spirit remains alive and well. Citizens seem powerless against a dysfunctional government, the raping of America by corporations and the manipulation by various and sundry game-riggers who’ve corrupted what once was a good system.
But when our people are given the chance to compete in a setting where the rules are fair and the outcome is determined by sheer skill and fortitude, they have proven time and time again that they will excel.
This same sense of resolve has been evident not only in Olympics competition, but in “real-life” ways.
It surfaced during the American Revolution when a ragtag group of guerrilla fighters (the Continental Army) defeated the greatest military power in the world, and also during the Great Depression as well as other calamities.
I am reminded of lyrics in a song by The Charlie Daniels Band called “In America,” which refer to the fact that the United States always manages to rise to the top regardless of our infighting or other internal problems:
“’Cause we’ll all stick together
and you can take that to the bank.
That’s the cowboys and the hippies
and the rebels and the yanks.
You just go and lay your hand
on a Pittsburgh Steeler fan.
And I think you’re gonna finally understand.”
I certainly can’t top the eloquence of the great Charlie Daniels, but will simply say that if we regular Americans do “stick together” as he says, there should be no stopping us going forward.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or email@example.com.