This week the pandemonium begins. The curtain rises on Salt Lake City and yet another Olympic Games. The world will drop whatever it's doing and turn its attention to the show.
And show really is an appropriate term. Everything has been carefully choreographed from the opening ceremonies and the television coverage to the athletes' uniforms. Even the soles of the boots worn by the Canadian delegation are stamped with a maple leaf pattern so as to leave patriotic footprints.
One might argue that, since their inauguration in 1896, the Modern Olympic Games have been irrevocably changed. They have become a spectacle, a veritable circus of events more reminiscent of the performances at the Ancient Roman Coliseum than the Ancient Olympic Games.
When Baron Pierre de Coubertin started on the road that would eventually led to the creation of a new Olympic movement, he dreamt of an event that would showcase the power, the strength and the grace of the individual. The athletes attending the 1896 Games in Athens did so out of love for the sport not for monetary rewards or the promise of fame.
The athletes competing in Salt Lake City are in many ways larger than life. They are our heroes, our gods and the hopes and dreams of nations rest on their muscular shoulders. When they compete it will be for the love of the sport but it will also be for the glory of their country and their results will go down in Olympic history.
That being said, have the Modern Olympics failed in their objective? Has the spectacle of the Games overshadowed the Baron's dream?
Perhaps. Or maybe the Games have taken on a new role; one larger than even Coubertin could have imagined. Maybe it was inevitable athletes should have metamorphed into beings of epic proportions on a stage overlooking the entire world. After all, the spectators crowding the field at ancient Olympia didn't need their athletes to be gods. They already had a pantheon of gods quite ready to take an active role in everyday life on earth.
When we, the viewing public, watch the Olympic Games we are inspired by the performances of the athletes. It's not that we expect to emulate their achievements, we understand that only a very small majority will ever achieve the Olympic gold. We are inspired because in that moment the athletes are fully human and at the same time so much more. Like the Greek gods they possess all the characteristics we see in ourselves yet magnified to such a degree as to be heroic.
Gone are the days when the athletes outnumbered the spectators. But instead of mourning for a time when television contracts didn't exist let's celebrate the Games as they are now, a wonderful show where ordinary people step forward to do extraordinary things.