Olympics bring the world closer together

Published 11:01 am Friday, February 7, 2014

Column: Things I Tell My Wife, by Matthew Knutson

“Is Madagascar even competing in the Winter Olympics?” I asked my wife. Her home country of Madagascar is an island off the coast of eastern Africa, and it’s not exactly known for its cold climate. Her response was only laughter.

Athletes from 88 of the world’s nearly 200 countries will represent their nation today as the world watches the Opening Ceremonies. These games routinely bring the world together for an event that ideally puts differences aside and allows us to compete on a more human level.

Email newsletter signup

Does it really matter where an athlete is from, or does it matter that they were able to achieve something few others can do? I think the Olympics should be about the accomplishments achieved, not about which countries’ borders end up containing the most medals-earners.

The concept of countries having borders is ever so apparent in my life right now as we go through the immigration process, but it’s something that can easily get lost on others.

America is often thought of as the melting pot of many other nations because we have so much diversity within our own borders. You don’t have to go to China to experience the Chinese way of life; you can go to Chinatown and immerse yourself in that culture. While it will, of course, not be a comprehensive cultural immersion, it can definitely open your mind to something new.

A particular Super Bowl commercial opened my mind to something new about my country. When Coca-Cola debuted their commercial featuring “America the Beautiful” being sung in many languages, a large backlash occurred. It turns out many people thought translating a classic patriotic song into multiple languages was un-American.

(Fun fact: There is actually no official language for the United States.)

Perhaps Coca-Cola knew by changing the lyrics they’d get a rise out of a certain group of people and allow their commercial to be the one everyone talked about for the next few days, or perhaps they genuinely wanted to demonstrate the melting pot that America represents today. Either way, it was clear that there still remains a dynamic of people being considered outsiders in our theoretical inclusive country.

While physical borders may keep people out of our nation, invisible borders still exist that keep many groups of people from being welcomed to the land of free. The American Olympic athletes will all come from different backgrounds and represent our country in different ways. They’ll all have their own version of “America the Beautiful.”

When Katharine Lee Bates wrote the first draft of her poem “America the Beautiful,” she was sitting on Pikes Peak mountain (which, by the way, was originally named El Capitán) near Colorado Springs, Colo. She stated, “When I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.”

I think a similar sentiment can be seen when watching the one-minute Coca-Cola commercial. Our many differences as a nation come together to create something beautiful and unique. That’s what we as a nation have to offer to the world. That’s how I hope our country is represented at the Olympics over this next month.

We’re about to witness some of the most talented athletes from around the world compete, and I hope it is not done just to give out gold medals and allowing countries to claim victory over others. Beyond recognizing the worthy athletic achievements by citizens of various countries around the globe, I hope the 2014 Sochi Olympics allows us to recall that all of our countries are an integral part of humanity. Our differences don’t have to separate us, but rather can unite us toward something positive. We need to go beyond focusing on the borders of countries and realize that there is so much more to a place then a line on a map that divides it from another place.

For those of you incredibly curious on the status of Madagascar in the Sochi Olympics, I hilariously received a “404 Error” when I tried to load the Madagascar Olympic team web page for the Sochi games. I’m taking that as a solid sign that they’re one of the countries that won’t be participating, but I’ll encourage my wife to start training for the 2018 games now. Certainly the world needs a new Jamaican bobsled story, and I think the people of Madagascar might be way better at ice hockey than you would think.


Matthew Knutson is a marketing specialist at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. Find him online at thingsitellmywife.tumblr.com.