The New Yorker:
There aren’t many multinational cultural events that can be celebrated as plainly and prevailingly decent. The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games—during which the participating teams march in a circle, and an athlete from the host country (this year, the beloved South Korean figure skater and gold medallist Kim Yu-na) sets the Olympic cauldron ablaze—feels like one of them. People who have trained preposterously hard to perform wild feats of strength and grace walk into a stadium, alongside their fellow citizen-athletes. Each team wears a special matching outfit. Many of the outfits are goofy. Because sport, more generally, has no explicit purpose beyond the joy it brings its players and spectators, the Olympics feel like a testament to human pleasure: let us gather, and do these pure and ridiculous things for fun.
The tradition of the Olympic torch began in 1928. The idea was to commemorate the sacrifice of Prometheus, the Greek Titan who fashioned man from clay, and later stole fire from the gods to share with his creation, thus insuring humanity’s progress and perpetuation. Prometheus was punished by Zeus for his hubris—strung up on a hillside, where birds of prey pecked away at his organs for all of eternity. But his intentions (he was a smart and righteous deity—a kind of proto-Robin Hood, brazenly redistributing abundance) stand as noble. It feels fitting that we humans honor him every few years.
Inevitably, I get very excited when the Parade of Nations starts. Such capable and powerful creatures! (My sport, Typing Slowly While Eating Room-Temperature Lo Mein, is not yet included in the Games.) This year, most everyone—nearly three thousand athletes, from ninety countries—appeared genuinely thrilled to be in Pyeongchang, loopy on outsize pomp and calculated risk. At the Winter Games, in particular, many athletes imperil their perfect bodies to do just one insane and astonishing thing: to go rocketing off a ski jump, say, while doing some cool, twisty moves, and then landing on an incline and gliding casually to the bottom, no big deal. Let no one tell you that only the poets surrender themselves for beauty.
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