Everyday, it seems like new allegations of sexual misconduct ruin another famous entertainer’s reputation or new scandals erupt from Washington, D.C. Already, 2018 has given Americans a lot to feel discouraged and pessimistic about.
That’s why we need the Olympic Winter Games more than ever. Even when the daily news challenges our faith in this country, watching our athletes overseas compete can help restore it.
Take 17-year-old snowboarder Chloe Kim, who won a gold medal for her performance on the halfpipe earlier this week. Both of Kim’s parents, Jong Jin and Boran, were born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States.
In 1982, Jong Jin Kim first arrived in the United States with just $800 to his name. Like so many other immigrants, though, he arrived with so much more than that — he also brought a dream of a better life for his children. The sacrifices he made and the risks he took enabled his daughter to pursue her highest aspirations, and it paid off.
“I just dreamed it this way. Not really dreamed, but it was my hope,” he said in an interview after his daughter won gold. “The dream came true. The American dream!”
People around the world view this country as the land of opportunity. They believe that if you work hard enough, you can make it in America. The Kim family story stands as a testament to that idea. Even in this dark moment of political discord and uncertainty, stories like theirs vindicate the American dream. Stories like this remind us that, yes, anything really is possible here in America.
“Just realizing how far I’ve come as a person and as an athlete, standing on that podium, everything kind of combines,” Chloe Kim said in a press conference after her triumph. “You realize that you won and you did a good run and you’re excited about everything…I don’t know what I’m saying right now, I’m just really happy.”
But beyond simply rousing our sense of American exceptionalism, the Olympic Games can show us in new ways the same great truths about human nature that are at the root of liberal education.
Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, wrote that he chose the motto of the Olympic Games — “Faster, Higher, Stronger” — because “These three words represent a program of moral beauty. The aesthetics of sport are intangible.”
In a certain respect, the Olympic motto and Coubertin’s rationale resemble our own motto here at Hillsdale College — “Strength Rejoices in the Challenge.” This is more than a coincidence; Coubertin, of course, didn’t invent the Olympic games from thin air. He drew on the traditions of ancient Greece, traditions our college draws upon to this day.
At the heart of this shared tradition is a truth Coubertin expressed: “moral beauty.” In “The Laws,” Plato’s spokesman says “gymnastic exercises have been excellently devised for the promotion both of temperance and courage.”
The athletes competing in Pyeongchang have devoted their entire lives to the pursuit of total perfection, pushing their bodies to transcend their limits. They perform feats of physical courage before the whole world, reminding us of the peaks of human greatness and teaching us about the possibilities of virtue.
Even though they may not change the world, the Olympic Games merit your attention because athletic achievements are good in and of themselves. There’s a reason you get goosebumps when you watch a figure skater stick a triple axel or a speed skater set a new world record — these are noble things, images of human flourishing.
So, this weekend, take a break from the books and appreciate the excellence on display at the Olympic Games.