Last night I was late to a party and lost all inhibitions as jumped up and down cheering and shouting. I was part of a historic moment, watching Norway win gold on the men’s relay in the World Championships in cross-country skiing. Uh, what? People say when I try to communicate with them the importance and beauty of the races. The world doesn’t seem to know how important this is. Greg, my friend who is plenty smart on other areas of life says: Not enough adrenaline. Give me a hockey match. The guy has no clue. There was plenty of adrenaline last night as Petter Northug kicked butt 400 meters before the finish line. In his condom suit, muscles bulging, strength sieving out through every cell, he paraded away from the rest, and brought joy to the nation. Schools took time out to watch, offices extended their lunch breaks by a couple of hours, and 150,000 people were present as the medals were given. It was a glorious moment.
I went to bed doing a few extra push-ups myself, in the spirit of world-class athletics.
It is a weird thing—sports. Many of us who normally seem to manage our feelings well go a little coo-coo. Just because some men or women do well at a sport. Just because they happen to represent a place we want to be associated with. But: It feels so good when WE win. Not that I have done a nano-second of work to take any credit for the victory, not that the athletes care one bit about me, not that it really matters in the big scheme of things. But I still feel like the victory is part mine.
Maybe it is because it helps us forget the blues. It gets our minds off of the daily grind of life with all its mundane tasks. Maybe it is because it makes us feel proud to belong somewhere and to be seen as somebody who is good at something. Maybe it is for all those reasons.
I have thought about the people I work with in Burma. There are some studly athletes there as well. The world just doesn’t know about them because they are in refugee camps and in villages that are threatened with extinction. There is nobody who can afford the world-class personal trainers, the new diets or the last fashion in athletic shoes. They cannot get sponsors to pay their way, they are not displayed as national heroes on all TV channels and the nation’s biggest papers. When you are from a country in war—a nation that is ranged one of the poorest in the world, then world class athletics become unobtainable luxury.
But, you know, I have watched them play volleyball and soccer with the kind of determination you can see in a World Championship. I have seen the spectators as excited about the victory of their team as I am of mine. There is pride and joy, and there is the value of belonging to a community there, as it is in Norway. One day, I hope, we will see Karen and Shan athletes compete in international events. When that happens I will cheer for them as loudly as I cheered for the Norway team last night.