I have never been so excited for the Olympic Games to start.
I thought that perhaps it was because I’ve been reading up on the subject for articles on Matador Sports for the past couple months, researching information about the last-minute skiing issues, increased security and Marjan Kahlor, the first woman to represent Iran in the winter Olympics. Or maybe I was just tired of watching week after week of football that any different sporting event would have been welcomed into my living room.
But as I waited anxiously from my West Coast home on Friday night, reading everyone’s updates on Twitter and Facebook about the opening ceremonies they were watching in real time, I began to realize the significance of these games to me.My travel writing and blogging friends and colleagues around the world were also anxious for the Olympic Games to start. These people are living, currently located in or somewhere in transition between (but not nearly limited to) New Zealand, Taiwan, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Scotland, Germany, Ireland, Argentina, Honduras, Mexico, Canada and just about every state in the United States.
For the first time, the parade of nations was more than an alphabetical listing of countries to me. Though I’ve always been interested in travel, I am now immersed in it, so I found myself thinking about where the countries were located and what was in each of them that I wanted to see and experience. I thought about the people I know who have ties to each of them. When the Argentinian team walked in, I wondered whether Leigh was watching the ceremonies from her expat home with her husband and daughter. The presence of Australia made me think of my long-time friend, Heather, who swore she would move to the country someday (which she did), and my fellow travel bloggers Craig and Linda from Indie Travel Podcast and Rob, who is crossing the country by van right now.
And so on … Keith and Klaas in the Netherlands, Lola in both Sweden and Nigeria, Neha in Croatia, Sherry who is a little bit of everywhere but most closely tied to Vietnam in my mind, Candice and Ian in Canada, and so many more that it’s not even conceivable to think about listing them all here. My point, though, is that places are no longer just names. They are areas with personalities that serve as home to my friends and colleagues. They are places with stories. I felt a little tug at my emotions when Peru’s team walked into the stadium, and I felt sad that Kenya wasn’t represented this year. When the team from Georgia entered the stadium and everyone gave them a standing ovation (and later when there was a minute of silence in honor of the fallen athlete), I thought about how this is exactly the way the travel community reacts. If something should happen to any one of us (like Matador contributor Sarah Shourd, who is currently being detained in Iran), we would honor that person because they are one of us.
This year, as the opening ceremonies unfolded, I was moved by the simplicity and subtlety of the choreography. I liked how each region in Canada was showcased and given the opportunity to share it’s particular quirk, talent, history and personality. And again, it made me think about how all travel bloggers and writers have something in common. We all have our niche, a unique voice and a different style. Apart we are each individuals, but together we make a colorful, dynamic community.
Inevitably, as the advent of the Olympics draws near, there is always talk about the politics and bureaucracy surrounding the games and the countries that choose to participate. What is the environmental footprint? How can countries that have so little money afford the expense of something “petty” like the Olympics? Since we’re talking about a global event, should we acknowledge the human rights issues, poverty and inequalities that take place in various countries around the world?
I’m not opposed to discussing controversial issues as they pertain to the Olympics, and, in fact, I think it’s a good forum that allows us to discuss things that most people wouldn’t otherwise be aware of, but at it’s very core, I like to focus on what the Olympic Games really represent: A time and place where people from many different backgrounds and cultures come together to celebrate a shared interest. Like my colleagues, they don’t all know each other by name or face. They, like us, have different religious, cultural and political ideologies. Despite their differences, however, they share a love for sport and competition. Like my fellow travel writers and bloggers spread across this planet, they are bound by something significantly more meaningful that becomes personal when we’re more than just names and places stuck on a map.