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Why I love the Olympics
It's easy to love the Olympics when you're country is winning, but there are a few more reasons why I love the Olympics. - photo by Kim Cowart
In 1984, I was sitting in front of our television in Roseburg, Oregon, watching Mary Lou Retton vault her way into fame.

A few days later, I watched Joan Benoit Samuelson become the first woman to win the first womens Olympic Marathon. I was 9 years old, and I still remember begging my mom to buy me a backpack with Sam the Eagle, the Olympic mascot, on the front. These two women sparked my love of the Olympics and that flame has yet to die out.

When the Olympics are on, I cant stop watching. I love to watch races determined by milliseconds. I love the drama and the back stories. I love to watch the parents and coaches live every up and down with their athletes. I love to see countless 4 a.m. wake-up calls and exhausting practice sessions pay off. But those arent the real reasons why I love the Olympics.

Heres why my televisions been on for two weeks straight.

First, I love the obscure sports. I love that for once, athletes who almost never get any recognition get to command our attention on the worlds stage. Many of these sports give young children hope. Trampoline, anyone? Any other little girls stand in front of their bathroom mirror waving their Strawberry Shortcake hair ribbons around pretending to be rhythmic gymnasts? I cant be the only one. Who knew handball, so popular at Green Elementary, could actually win me a gold medal? Had I known, maybe I would have taken my training on the playground a little more seriously.

Second, I love that women take center stage: Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, Kristin Armstrong, Sarah Robles, Simone Manuel, Michelle Carter, Kayla Harrison. Im aware there are women in mainstream sports. Serena Williams, anyone? But lets be real. The majority of sports the masses watch on television are male dominated. What I see every day on my morning runs and gym workouts are women cycling, lifting, punching, running, throwing and generally killing it every day.

For a couple weeks every four years my personal experience is reflected in what I see on TV. Ever watch womens field hockey? Those women could teach American football players a thing or two about toughness: powerful, strong, focused, determined, fiercely competitive women these are the ladies I know.

Third, I love to watch the athletes who know they have absolutely no chance at medaling and still go out and give everything theyve got. I love that they arent doing it for Olympic glory but personal and patriotic glory. I love how they revel in the fact theyre on this big stage. I love the joy they exude when they put on their countrys uniform. It makes me want to be my best at whatever task I tackle.

Finally, I love that the Olympics brings together different cultures in peaceful competition. The only battles are those fought on the court, in the pool or on the track. In a time when our world seems so fraught with danger and fear, I love that sports bring out the best of the human spirit. I love that one minute Abby DAgostino from the U.S. and Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand are fierce rivals, but the next minute helping each other up off the track after a nasty fall and hugging it out at the finish line. No animosity. Just respect.

What strikes me most is if you strip away the flags and the uniforms, you strip away so much of what separates us. Whether from Jamaica or Iceland, athletes are athletes. They wake up early every morning. They train hard and dream big. They give their all and then some. Its their passion and commitment that makes this middle-aged woman a 9-year-old girl begging for an Olympic backpack again.
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