Rooting for Team USA -- In France
Whoo! Whoo! U-S-A! U-S-A! Whoo! Whoo! U-S -- Oh hello, there, folks, sorry, I didn't hear you come in. I am just practicing my cheering, my Olympic spirit is strong! I'm always cheering someone on! Here's a postcard from another Olympic-spirited friend in Paris . . .
A few weeks ago I had an amazing opportunity. The timing of my trip to Paris had made it so that I would be there during the Tour de France. Since this world-famous bike race has its finish line in Paris, I could be a spectator at the grand finale. Needless to say, I was super excited.
But then, after the second to last stage of the race, Wiggins, a biker from England, had already secured his victory in the final time trial. This meant that the last part of the race was essentially meaningless, just for show. Even though other awards were still to be won, the famous yellow jersey symbolizing overall victory was already assigned. I was disappointed. Half the fun of being a spectator at a sports event is the anticipation and uncertainty of the outcome. But that was no longer a factor in the 2012 Tour de France.
Despite this, the next day I headed over to the street where the riders would be speeding towards the finish line.
It was very crowded, and I was surprised by the general vibe of my fellow spectators. Everyone was excited. People had giant flags of countries from all over Europe. One particular group of Norwegians was extremely zealous, dressed head-to-toe in Norwegian flag-printed clothing, holding flags the size of a dining room table. Knowing their country's representative had not taken first place didn't even slightly diminish their enthusiasm.
When the riders finally made it to that last leg of their journey, the crowd went wild. Everyone was screaming, cheering on these accomplished men. I had not expected this much verve from a crowd watching a pre-determined race. It was as though they didn't care about the win at all.
Then a week later it was July 27, time for the Olympics opening ceremony in London. Down by the Hotel de Ville, Paris's city hall, the city government had organized a live showing of the coverage on a giant screen for everyone to watch for free. Of course I had to go. That night as I made it to the square, which I'd passed many times before, I noticed something different. There were red telephone booths all over the place, as well as British flags. Also, everyone I heard was speaking English. It certainly didn't feel like I was in France anymore.
As it turned out, instead had turned this area of town into a tribute to London. I’ve frequently heard that the two countries of France and England don’t always get along, and that made the gesture very powerful. Paris wasn’t going to hold a grudge. They simply wanted to display their Olympian spirit!
Witnessing both these events, the Tour de France and the Olympics, was truly spectacular. Because they're international competitions, it might seem as though they'd be fiercely competitive, fueled with national pride and a desire to prove one's country is the best. But what ended up happening in my experiences was completely different. These international competitions really provided a celebration of international relationships. Of course, each year all the athletes are competitive, and people certainly do display national pride. Yet, it's in a way that shows pride doesn't have to necessitate superiority. These races and games can be time when cultural or political differences don't matter, and people can just have fun.
That being said, until the games end, I’ll still be whole-heartedly rooting for team U.S.A.!