The Olympic Games have become synonymous with worldwide competition and camaraderie. It is a time when warring countries can be united through sports and pride for their athletes. Last Friday, the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics marked the start of a new season where ideals of peace and unity are emphasized.

Even after looking at the official Olympic flag, five interlocking rings, the symbolism of community is overwhelming. The opening ceremony specifically showed this as various indigenous nations of Canada joined together in the beginning. All throughout there were symbols of peace: the doves projected on the walls of the stadium in which it was held or the rendition of the song ‘Hallelujah.” And it ended the same way it began, with a unifying feeling, as the Olympic cauldron was ignited from a series of torches that many people carried across the vast country of Canada.

As evidenced by natural disasters like those from Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti, tragedy is also a powerful means for bringing people together. While simply having representatives from 82 countries competing in one city is a huge unity builder, there was a lot of power in the moment of silence that was held in memory of Nodar Kumaritashvili, a Georgian luger who died on the morning of the opening ceremony. It was no longer about competition in that moment, but the sharing of the athletic and Olympic experience. The athletes were once again partaking in the unifying spirit of the games.

Though Vancouver succeeded in alleviating reminders of world conflicts during the opening ceremony, underlying tensions could not be completely forgotten. NBC announcers duly noted that only Ireland separated Iran and Israel in the opening procession. This year North Korea and South Korea marched separately, as did Serbia and Montenegro a subtle reminder of breaks between countries. The new rendition of the song ‘We are the World” highlighted the strife that continues in Haiti. Also, the fact that only five out of over 50 countries in Africa are participating in the games might indicate the problems that are still prevalent on that continent and in the rest of the world. Even the Olympic Games cannot fully eliminate the constant struggles that are felt worldwide.

While the International Olympic Committee and everyone watching hope the games will spread the ever elusive world peace, it is more likely that their end in Vancouver will leave the world as it was before the start of the Olympics. The problems that the world continually faces will come back into the forefront of the minds of leaders and citizens. Soon enough the spirit of unity will fade away as the results become replaced with stories of increasing economic troubles or casualties of war.

We saw this hope decrease after the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. When China agreed to host the event, many people hoped it would become more open to the rest of the world. At the time of the games, it seemed like China was making a real effort to welcome the nations participating and even the press into their country. However, two years later, it is seemingly unchanged. Countries, like China, seem set in their ways and are unlikely to revise them for the fleeting feeling of unity that takes over during the time of competition.

In a short amount of time the world will most likely go back to its preoccupation with its many problems. However, the Olympic Games show the realization of unity through something as simple as sports involving snow and ice. Not only are the athletes interacting with one another on the slopes or the rink, but the rest of the world is watching them and cheering them on. The athletes, as representatives of many different countries, can inspire and instill hope in those who believe that some countries will inevitably be locked in conflict.

While these Winter Olympics only last until Feb. 28, they are a refreshing change of pace from the everyday struggles that we are so used to hearing in the media. Instead of anticipating failures, we watch as athletes work together toward success.

And if we take a cue from our athletes, maybe peace and unity in the world are not so elusive after all.

Olfano is a member of
the class of 2012.

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