When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the Olympics were all about beating the Soviet Union. China was a dark force whom "we" didn't like very much, but the Soviet Union? Yeesh. Darth Vader, Sauron and Lex Luther all rolled up into one.
Have times changed.
My family and I were watching the games the other night when Canada won its first ever gold on home ground. It was an emotionally overwhelming moment to share with Alexandre Bilodeau when he caputured gold in the men's moguls. We all cheered. Loudly.
None of us is Canadian.
It got even better yesterday when Shen and Zhao won the pairs figure skating gold, a medal that's eluded them for two decades and which they came out of retirement to try one last time to capture. I was in tears.
I am not Chinese.
My ten year old daughter said, "That is so good. They deserve it."
She is not Chinese.
Why my emphasis on nationality? Because after growing up fearing the "evil empire" that was the Soviet Union, I realized last night that the world my children are growing up in is a vastly new one. One in which we cheer for the winners, no matter where they are from. When an announcer talks about a Japanese skater who became Russian to follow her dream of figure skating, and in a joking aside says, "Does anyone defect to the Soviet Union?"
Times have changed. Changed for the better.
Sure, there are still problems. Iran and Israel would not march into the games one after the other. Taiwan is not allowed to call itself Taiwan. But, you know, I think the Greeks were onto something. These games, they may not necessarily be the big force that changes our opinions about each other, but they keep lines of communication open. They give us the opportunity to root for our fellow man, regardless of nationality, and to mourn with him. The moment of silence for the Georgian luge slider, Nodar Kumaritashvili, during the opening ceremonies is one I will long remember.
For these brief two weeks, we get a chance to be better than we are. American broadcasters have even gotten with the program. Two games ago, all they ever seemed to show were the Americans performing. Now they are showing a great cross section of athletes, giving those of us at home the opportunity to cheer for the best athlete, no matter where she is from. It's awesome. And I don't meant the trite definition of that word. I mean the awe-inspiring, we can do anything if we put our minds to it, definition.
There's hope world. Don't give up on us yet.