Olympic records change but their meanings don’t
There's no better time to be a U.S. citizen than during the Olympics.
We dominate. It's still early in the games and the United States already has such a lead on its competitors that no team will be able to catch the U.S.
After the Atlanta games, the United States ranked first all-time in the Olympics with 2,019 medals. The next closest country was the U.S.S.R., which grabbed 1,010 in its 36-year existence.
But that's not what the Olympics, or athletics in general, are about.
The Olympics are about more than "my country can beat your country" or sentiments of national pride. The games are about redefining the standards of athletic excellence.
What once was considered the best is now just average.
In the first summer games in Athens in 1896, Tonganoxie High School students could have done well.
That year a 12.0 won the 100-meter dash that won't win any meets today.
That year, the 800-meter run was won by Australia's Teddy Flack, who ran the race in 2:11.00.
Sorry Teddy, you wouldn't make Tonganoxie's 4x800 relay team.
But it's important to remember that these really were some of the best performances of that time.
That's what the saying, "records were made to be broken" means. And that has to do with competition.
I don't mean competition in the limited sense of two or more teams playing to win an event.
I'm talking about the second level of competition that builds upon every single match, game, race or meet that's ever been played.
Because every athlete competes with the knowledge of how well the best have done, athletes compete against themselves and the things that hold them from being that good.
And eventually someone will be better. Someone will make that little number in the record book a little smaller.
But for every drop of ink used to write a change in the record book, tons of blood, sweat and tears were shed in the effort.
Weights were lifted and then the athlete went back for another set, because she wanted to be the best.
Laps were run before the season began because how can you win if you don't out-work your opponent?
Of all the millions working to become the best, only one ever is. All the rest are trying to be.
The Olympics are also about the progression of sports themselves.
For example, in the high jump, sand was replaced by a mat, and rolls and scissor-kicks were made obscure by the Fosbury flop.
The Olympics also play a role in maintaining good international relations.
The biggest reason that we haven't destroyed ourselves and our planet may be simply that we remind ourselves every couple of years that our cultures can peacefully interact.
It also helps remind us how alike we all really are. The best from every nation perform at about the same standard, proving that a Lithuanian isn't that different from some Idaho potato farmer.
What makes the Olympics so great is just watching and dreaming.