For the next couple of weeks the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, are likely to live near the top of both news and sports broadcasts; the Olympics, with their subtext of international competition (as important to some news media and many spectators as the competition between athletes) are always news. It’s worth remembering, though, that the Olympic Charter specifies that “The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries”—a concept that many jingoistic commentators would do well to remember.
(The role of the nation versus the individual or team might make for a great topic of discussion for interested Olympics-watchers. As well, we await the first time a thoughtful newsreader explains the daily medal count as, “Twelve of today’s medal winners were from Norway” instead of the more usual, “Norway won twelve medals today.”)
The Winter Games can have a special appeal to the interested child. Replete with unusual sports, complex scoring methods, and athletes from nations—think Liechtenstein—that tend not to be in the news very much, there’s a great deal to pique a young person’s curiosity. Plus, of course, the sports are just fun to watch, from the grace of figure skating to the anxious precision of curling to the sheer speed of alpine skiing, not to mention the seemingly impossible geometries of snowboarding and freestyle skiing. (NBC Learn has a great educational site, “Science of the Winter Olympic Games,” for interested children and adults who want to know, for example, how figure skaters can control the speed of their spins and turning jumps.)
The Olympics always provide lessons in geography and culture as well as the human interest of tight competition among athletes at the peak of performance. The opening ceremonies are artistic extravaganzas, and the pride and excitement of the athletes entering in their team uniforms behind their national flags is palpable. Equally palpable is the joy and unbridled relief of the athletes at the closing ceremonies; watching medal winners taking pictures of the crowd on their phones as they grin and dance their way into the stadium is a reminder that this is a deeply human event, a coming together that fulfills the wildest dreams of the idealists who began the modern Olympic movement in 1894—truly, what founder Pierre de Coubertin called “a program of moral beauty.”
This year’s Winter Olympics will receive massive coverage on live TV, streaming video, and wrap-ups and highlight shows. Just following the main Games will be record-level broadcast coverage of the Paralympics, in which disabled athletes compete in many Olympic sports in one of the most extraordinary affirmations of the human spirit and human possibility anyone is ever likely to witness.
We are obliged to note that these Olympics have sparked more than the usual amount of controversy owing to both the threats of terrorism and Russia’s Draconian laws pertaining to homosexuality. For some, viewing the Games this time around may be more disturbing than enjoyable; adults will have to make their own decisions on these matters.
Nevertheless, we at The Interested Child remain big fans of the Olympics and the spirit in which they were established and continue, at their best, to portray. We urge parents, guardians, and educators to give consideration to the upsides of offering children plenty of opportunities to watch, learn from, and reflect on the spectacle that is the Winter Olympics.
Here’s a brief overview of the Games prepared for elementary-age students (compliments of Mimi Harrington of Dedham Country Day School, Massachusetts–who notes that there have been a couple of changes since the show was created earlier this week; the world of sport is a world of change!):