The Olympics, at its best, pick up the slack of politics, culture, education and everything in between. It does what these areas often fail to do: bring the many into one. It’s the simplicity and honestness of competition that does this. Either you receive a medal or you don’t, and you earn a medal by doing better than the next person. I can only wish the government were this transparent.
The Olympics give nations something to root for and rally around. Part of the thrill of watching the Olympics is knowing that millions of Americans are watching too, which brings out the sensation of belonging to something bigger and higher than just us.
But at its worst, the Olympics reflect a nation’s division and stratification. For those of us who watched the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, we witnessed this paradox in action.
The big story surrounding Pyeongchang was the unification of South and North Korea, who mutually decided to share representation for their athletes. South and North Korea are not competing separately but instead as one unified Korea.
Not only that, but just four days ago, Kim Jong Un extended a personal invitation to South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in, to travel to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. North and South Korean leaders have not officially met in 10 years. Their relationship has been more volatile, fickle and tense than that of siblings. This is historic and the best example of the healing power of sport in recent memory.
Regardless of what else happens during the Winter Olympics, the possibility of a friendship between North and South Korea is by far the best storyline of the competition. The ramifications of this are global; we would all benefit from a calmer, friendlier and less trigger-happy Kim Jong Un.
Watching the two Koreas walk together during the opening ceremony, the athletes waving a flag displaying one single Korea, was a treat. Everything that is good about the Olympics were expressed in that moment. Who knows what will happen after the competition is finished, whether North and South Korea will be at each other’s throats again or whether real peace comes from this, but we shouldn’t worry about that now. We should enjoy seeing the two Koreas compete and struggle together, hoping this is just the prologue to a great, unified future.
While I watched two bickering nations complete as one, it made me think America needs to follow suit. Sure, we aren’t technically divided into two nations. But we might as well be when it comes to class distinction.
But as I said earlier, the Olympics are not a fairy tale, which is evident in who is representing America. I don’t know why, but while watching the opening ceremony, I was particularly struck this year — more so than in years past — by the sea of white, smiling faces who represented our country.
For a second, I thought we were Norway or Russia. According to The New York Times, 243 athletes are competing for America, the most out of any nation, of which 10 are African-American and 10 are Asian-American (the U.S. Olympic Committee does not release data on other ethnicities because they do not think said data is reliably collected.) It doesn’t take a sociologist or political scientist to deduce from those numbers that America as it truly is, in its multiethnic state, not accurately reflected in this year’s Olympics.
This is a problem that I doubt will change soon. The pursuit of Winter Olympic sports — snowboarding, skiing, hockey, bobsled — is an expensive one, plain and simple. In America, wealthy people are mostly white people, hence why most of the athletes are white. How can a nation root for itself if a portion of its population is competing? It is a shame. Winter Olympic sports are not the most entertaining, but they are beautiful and require admiration. It is a shame that half of America cannot see itself competing, cannot root for itself alongside white people.
In any case, the Summer Olympics are always better anyway.
Scott Stinson is a UF English junior. His column focuses on popular culture.