November 20, 2001

Torch Rekindled

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We were supposed to seek solace in professional sports. After the Sept. 11 bombings, President Bush asked us to return to a semblance of normalcy. After a brief reprieve professional, college, little league and recreational athletics resumed play in a country trying to forget. Even Bush took a minute to throw out the first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series. But has it been so long since that point that football Sunday’s and college basketball matchups are again taken as insignificant?

A few weeks ago, the sports pages were filled with relief efforts and firemen’s families honored at games. Those heart-warming tales aren’t there anymore. Instead former cowboy Nate Newton’s run in with narcotics officers, Saints’ Kyle Turley’s anger management problem and the overwhelming greediness of Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds, who are riding the free-agency gravy train, all take the back page.

But buried among the many pages of hockey, basketball and football wrap-ups is coverage of a biannual event that is significant world round. The Olympic flame embarked upon its trip to Salt Lake City. A symbol of sport for the last three millennia, the flame has been burning on the top of Mount Olympus for the past two years waiting to be transported to the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics. And the symbol of peace and global unity could not come at a more appropriate time.

It seems somewhat ironic that an organization such as the International Olympics Committee (IOC), which has been overwhelmed with corruption and bribery, should be given the authority to restore a sense of honor to the athletic world, but it shoulders that burden right now.

Even more importantly, the games must unite a divided world in friendly competition. With the entire U.S. and world afraid to travel by air, attend popular events and even open mail, the Olympics can quell some suspicions by demonstrating the mutual respect athletes have for one another.

In the past, world events have often taken center court at the games: Jesse Owens versus Hitler in 1936, the Hungarian versus the USSR in water polo in1956 and the Americans versus the USSR in hockey in1980. We don’t need an American-Afghanistan face off this year.

Tensions are high, too high right now. That is why In 64 days, when the flame finds its temporary home in Utah, the Olympic overseers must make sure that the symbol of “greatness and light” can not be desecrated, especially in these cynical times.

Lately, it hasn’t been the international competition, but the commercialization, drug use and corruption that has damaged the pristine Olympic aura. Five minute commercial breaks and updates brought to you by McDonald’s, Fugi and Kelloggs suggest the monetary gains made through the events. Medals are revoked after drug tests prove positive — even negative results arouse suspicion. But the athletes aren’t as bad as the bribe-taking organizers who whored the games out to the competing hosts.

However, all of that is forgotten through the hope kindled with the flame. People travelled to Ancient Olympia to watch the ceremonial lighting of the torch. They will line the streets that its bearers run down. They will wait for a glimpse of the flame to warm their hearts.

From now until February, this country will be gearing up for the Olympics; who knows if it will still be gearing up for war. This is a chance to give sport the prominence it had a mere 50 days earlier. We can appreciate the speed, grace, coordination and camaraderie. It would move sports away from the bad name that people like Newton and Turley perpetuate.

It would be a shame to extinguish the hope the flame ignites in all of us.

Archived article by Amanda Angel