|97 Re-igniting the Eternal Flame 1896
THE ANCIENT Greek Olympics were a tribute to the gods, a show of humanity's capacity for grace, speed and strength. They lasted from at least 776 B.C. to 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius banned the games, which had devolved into a crude carnival rife with pro athletes, betting, bribery, all manner of cheating.
Determined to rekindle the original ethic, a Parisian aristocrat named Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympic movement in 1896. His tournament has since grown into a mammoth quadrennial exhibition of money, power and sport that stands as the world's most grandiose entertainment spectacle. Even as one of de Coubertin's most wild-eyed ideals has been realized--that of uniting the world's countries, if only briefly--the Olympics' growing importance has made it a target of abuse. Hitler sought to portray the 1936 Games as proof of Aryan superiority; terrorists used the '72 Munich Games as their stage in the massacre of Israeli athletes; President Carter called a boycott of the '80 Moscow Olympics after the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan, and Moscow replied in kind four years later when L.A. hosted. Just last year a murderous pipe-bomber, motive unclear, terrorized Atlanta. Great leaders and craven criminals realize that nothing focuses world attention like the Olympics.
Why? Because sometimes we glimpse the transcendent. Kerri Strug, Michael Johnson, Oksana Baiul (just to name a few from recent Games): You see them in their glory, and you smile. Little kids smile. De Coubertin smiles. The gods themselves smile (Nike, not least).
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