Competition has ended, and so I find myself able to set my own schedule. This may sound like a normal human enterprise, but for an athlete who has known what he has had to do every morning for the last three years, this is a revelation. Today I played soccer, and while that may sound like a normal pass-time, there’s a bit more to it.
You see, I was invited to play last night during a midnight snack run at the Village dining hall. A friend of mine from the German eight invited me to play with him, and when I showed up, they were already in full swing. Aside from a Canadian rower, I was the only other native English speaker.
If I hadn’t, by accident of fate, studied German in high school then I would have had to guess at what they were saying. But the one thing that was universal, no matter the tongue spoken, was the way the game was played.
As is to be expected, most of us were laughing at our errors (rowers are not the most coordinated on land) and enjoying ourselves. The game inevitably got semi-serious at one point, as it always does with competitive people, and we had to calm down and take it easy. Really though, the jokes were the same, the laughter was the same, we were one in the game.
The Olympic Village is like a living Valhalla, a place for the people most like each other in the world to get together and transcend borders. I think the theme of this experience for me is realisation – I have found so much more meaning in things that I only understood on an intellectual level before. I thought I knew that people were all the same, but laughing and playing and talking with the Germans and Dutch and Canadians and Greeks and Croats and anyone else on the street makes that commonality so much more apparent.
We are the valiant few, chosen to fight and feast for these precious few weeks, and when it is done we will return to the real world. But for now, here, we are all the same, and we have so much to share.