Athletes shine despite Olympic controversies


Millions hovered in front of their TV, computer, and smartphone screens from Aug. 5-21, as they viewed athletes showcasing their hard work over the past four years. On the screens were 11,544 athletes from more than 200 countries, all making their way to a single, unified goal: to become the best in the world. As with many large events, there were various ups and downs throughout the games. According to the Wall Street Journal, at times it even appeared as if the Olympics would not transpire due to a combination of political, social, and economic issues. However, despite these doubts and impediments, the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics facilitated a platform that gave athletes and nations the opportunity to interact with each other.

According to Forbes news, Brazil is “the murder capital of the world.” Though some Brazilian cities have lower crime rates than their counterparts in the US or Mexico, Brazil is still categorized as a developing nation with social, economic, and political problems ranging from corruption and crime to social inequality. Initially, construction for the summer Olympics was delayed due to opposition against holding the games in Rio. Brazilian citizens also took to the streets in the form of multiple protests that escalated to the point of violence, which resulted in the use of tear-gas and other peacekeeping measures. Over the course of the games, poor facilities and housing for the athletes, as well as the existing political instability coupled with a lack of police enforcement were noted by news outlets such as the Washington Street Journal. Reports of unsafe facilities, subpar accommodations, and uncomfortable living conditions led to the creation of a hashtag: #IOCLuxuryLodging, which poked fun at the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) unpreparedness in Brazil. This hashtag shed light on the complications in Rio, and led to further amplified complaints regarding the IOC’s decision to let Brazil host the Olympics.

“For months leading to the Olympics, I read and saw news reports about the problems on the streets of Rio,” Steven Cho (11) said. “There were so many problems that I, along with many others, doubted that the Olympics would even take place this year. For example, the chaos on the streets and the political problems of Rio all contributed to these controversies. Relative to that, I think there weren’t as many problems, as it wasn’t like the city shut down because of the stress on the economy. Overall, because the Olympics were held without as many complications as people thought, I think the games can be considered a success.”

Many others cited stories of small victories in arguing that the summer Olympics was able to incorporate smaller countries into the games, according to BBC News. Larger countries such as the US, China, and Russia usually dominate in many fields. However, this year was the first year that the countries Fiji, Jordan, Bahrain, Singapore, Kosovo, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Puerto Rico, and Ivory Coast had their first gold medals. There was also a team of refugee athletes, and when Kuwait was banned by the IOC, Kuwait’s Fehaid al-Deehani won the first medal as an independent athlete, not under a flag of any nation. These small success stories inspired many watching at home, and according to various sources, captured the spirit of the Olympic games.

Similarly, the Olympics helped create an iconic of the games: a selfie that united North and South Korea. Un-jong Hong and Eun-ju Lee of North and South Korea, respectively, posed for a selfie during their training sessions before their performances. While both failed to claim the championship in their rounds, their actions alluded to unity that the games represent, as hailed by TIME Columnist Ian Bremmer. Though the two nations are still at war, small actions like these show the world that individuals and cultures have the capability of bonding in the most tumultuous situations.

In addition, the victory of South Korean fencer Sangyoung Park brought heartfelt emotions to numerous watchers of the games, as he defied all odds to win Korea’s first fencing medal in Rio.

Despite being down 14-10 in the last few minutes of the game, Park was able to defeat Geza Imre of Hungary 15-14 in the finals of the epee fencing event. Repeatedly whispering the phrase “I can do it” to himself in the final moments before his victory, Park’s demonstration of perseverance was largely recognized by the Korean public and even went viral on South Korean media for its motivational value.

For those who exhibit camaraderie and sportsmanship, there exists a fourth medal: the Pierre de Coubertin medal, named after the founder of the modern Olympics. This rare medal is given to the Olympians who embody the spirit of the games. Though these athletes may not win gold, silver, or bronze, their actions are what make them stand out. This year, track and field athletes Abbey D’Agostino from the US and Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand became the 17th and 18th recipients of the medal after their joint performance in the 5,000-meter race. When the two athletes collided with each other and fell during the race, but both Hamblin and D’Agostino took the time to help each other up and finish the race even though D’Agostino injured her knee in the fall. The two reached the finish line side by side, sacrificing any chances at a medal, but exemplifying the notion of mutual respect in the face of competition and hardship.

“The sisterhood I saw between [Hamblin and D’Agostino] was inspiring to watch, and they completely deserved the [Pierre de Coubertin medal].” Austin Jeong (10) said. “But, I think they weren’t the only ones who helped make the summer Olympics work. What makes the Olympics the Olympics is its spirit, and I think people were inspired into applying the athletes’ examples of hard work and mutual respect into their daily lives.”