Sunday, July 31, 2016

Citius, Altius, Fortius

William Blake- "Jerusalem"

We never had a television at home when I was growing up and I have no memories of the Olympics until the 1976 summer games in Montreal, Quebec. Two of my friends volunteered at the event and shared their first hand stories. After that, I looked forward to watching the games on TV every 4 years and then every 2 years starting in 1994. I prefer the Winter Olympics which have more cohesive coverage because they are smaller. Besides, who can resist at least one really excellent hockey tournament. Olympic hockey is so much better than NHL hockey in my opinion.

In recent years, the Olympic image has become increasingly tarnished by scandal, money and power. Judging of artistic merit in sports such as figure skating and gymnastics is flawed and political. The Olympic movement is controlled by corporate money with endorsements and sponsorships required for athletic training. Performance drug use has been rampant for years and we are learning the creative ways athletes, trainers and even countries have acted to prevent detection. There is no longer any distinction between amateur and professional athletes.

My all time favourite Olympic story is told in the 1981 movie, Chariots of Fire. Athletic games were a vehicle for developing character, leadership, loyalty, honesty, mutual responsibility and national spirit. Eric Liddell, played superbly by Ian Charleson, was the epitome of an Olympic athlete. In his struggle between two callings, Eric Liddell wrote,

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.” 

He trained hard but did not compromise his personal convictions. He was gracious and encouraging to his competitors. He wrote, 

“In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found if one has done his best.” 

In the movie, the Olympic Committee tries to get Eric Liddell to change his mind about running on the Sabbath. One member comments, 

"The lad, as you call him, is a true man of principle and a true athlete. His speed is mere extension of his life and his force. We sought to sever his running from himself. 

Eric Liddell went on to win the 400 m race at the Paris Olympics in 1924 and set a world record which stood for 12 years. He then left Scotland and fulfilled his calling as a missionary to China. He died in a Japanese prison camp in 1945. 

The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius, Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger". We may have reached the limits of human performance without artificial enhancement. But the Olympic Creed is timeless. 

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, 
just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. 
The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Photo: Manitoulin Island sunset July 2016


  1. Ruth--great post. I too love the movie "Chariots of Fire."
    As for hockey--one of my best Olympic memories is the U.S. defeating Russia in the semi-finals in ice hockey.
    I am leaning toward a somewhat darker memory of the Olympics--but, truth be told, I always enjoy--at least parts of the Olympics.

    1. My best Olympic memories are of Canada beating the U.S. or Russia ;-)

  2. Oh, I loved Chariots of Fire, too! Walked past the track at Oxford where Eric Lidell used to train. Such an inspiring man.

  3. It is sad that it's become the corrupt, money hungry spectacle that it is, and that the hard work of so many gifted athletes is not truly the focus. Maybe it has reached a tipping point, and things will return to the spirit of the games.

  4. That was a fave movie that I'm glad to be reminded of.


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