The way the media was covering the Olympics in the weeks leading up to last weekend’s opening ceremonies, you’d have thought the games were taking place in Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell.
Granted, Brazil’s criticism is probably warranted, between its highly documented recent political and economic turmoil, its contaminated water and its outbreak of the Zika virus.
But we get this with every Olympics. Remember in Sochi two years ago, when the news was so dry in the days leading up to it that reports began focusing on the color of the drinking water? Case and point.
Once the games begin, the world’s focus shifts to the athletes, and rightfully so.
Although, last Friday’s opening ceremonies did leave plenty to talk about.
First there was Gisele Bundchen catwalking so ferociously that I seriously thought she might pull a hamstring. Does she strut that defiantly when she walks from her living room to her kitchen, too?
Then there was the man every female cougar on the news inappropriately and creepily talked about all weekend — the flag bearer from Tonga. Dude leads his countrymen bare-chested and drenched in baby oil, and suddenly women everywhere are swooning.
Women, control yourselves! Is that all it takes? A well sculpted body and some lube? Show some restraint, for crying out loud.
I mean, it’s not like I rubbed lotion all over my body yesterday and stood in front of the mirror to see how my appearance would stack up next to Mr. Tonga Man, realized how unflattering my physique is, and spent the whole rest of the day crying.
That never happened. I swear. I also refuse to call him by his real name, Pita Toufatofua. Mainly because I have no idea how to pronounce it.
But besides the overt sex appeal, there was also some inspirational and touching moments during the opening ceremonies. For one, having read very little about the Games beforehand, I was astonished and pleasantly surprised to see that there was — for the first time ever — a team comprised solely of refugees.
Given the horrors that are taking place in Syria and many other parts of the globe, forcing people to upend their lives and complete miraculous journeys through land and sea, risking their lives to cross borders at which they’re often unwelcome, it’s heartening to see that we are still giving them equal opportunity to perform on the world’s highest athletic stage, during an event that revolves around international inclusion.
I mean, North Korea has a team. So why not the refugees?
But the story that has resonated the most with me was learning about 18-year-old Yusra Mardini, who will swim in the 100-meter butterfly and the 100-meter freestyle under the refugee flag. The teenager fled war-torn Syria in 2015, and after multiple failed attempts to reach Europe, found herself in a capsized dinghy holding some 20 people three miles from the Greek island of Lesbos.
So what did she do? She hopped out, grabbed the boat, and swam it to safety, of course, with the help of her sister and two other refugees.
I mean, how could she feel any pressure swimming in the Olympics after that?
It’s just a shining example that these refugees, who we so quickly minimize and dismiss as human beings, are hell of a lot more courageous than most of us will ever be.
May the games begin.