The Olympic Games are here. Beginning August 5th with the opening ceremony in the legendary Maracanã Stadium in Rio, 306 medal events are being contested across the 42 Olympic sports disciplines. It’s potentially a wonderful time when athletes from 207 countries and audiences from virtually every country on our planet come together in a spirit of friendly competition, forming bonds of friendship that can unite us in a way almost without parallel
The Olympic Charter reminds us that a pinnacle goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of world harmony, to foster a more peaceful world. The Olympic flag thus includes five interlaced rings, which represent the union of the five participating continents and the peaceful meeting of athletes from all around the world. Despite controversy over drug-use, safety issues and politics, the Olympics remain a highlight in our lives, a celebration of world peace, a fount of inspirational stories, an astonishing pageant, a glimpse of a brighter future for mankind.
I had the very good fortune to meet quite a number of Olympians over the years, primarily through my involvement with our Marathon Team and it’s sports loving founder Sri Chinmoy. In New York in 2005 we caught up with Tatyana Lebedeva, the Russian gold medallist in the long jump and a bronze medallist in the triple jump at the 2004 Olympics who was visiting Sri Chinmoy for several days. What a wonderful person she was in every way. In 2005 she became the premier women’s athlete in the world.
Earlier, in Wellington, we hosted a special function for the Brazilian runner and 1984 Olympic gold medallist in the 800 metres, Joaquim Cruz who was in New Zealand to conduct coaching sessions. And back in New York in 1981 we met with the legendary Olympic running coach Arthur Lydiard, who later became a patron of our national torch relay, the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run. Here in New Zealand, many Olympians have become supporters and patrons of the Peace Run, mindful of the positive influence that sport has on world harmony. .
Sri Chinmoy loved the Olympics and spoke at length about their significance.
“The very word Olympics is, for me, a magnificent thrill, absolutely a universal thrill, and it raises the consciousness of humanity in the inner world.
This world is full of sadness, sorrows, frustrations and depression, and so many unfriendly, hostile things happen. But in the Olympics at least we get the opportunity to meet together for a few weeks and create a oneness-world-family.
“The presence of all the great athletes at the Olympics represents a great opportunity. When an athlete has to compete with the rest of the world, there is every opportunity and possibility that he will transcend his own capacities. If he can transcend his own achievement, then it will be a true gain and a true achievement for the whole world. This is what is of paramount importance, and not whether he defeats others or not. The winning athlete has to feel that he is representing all of humanity…..The Olympics tower above all man-made differences. They are infinitely bigger than race. They are eternally brighter than colour. They are supremely better than religion.”
Sri Chinmoy had a very close friendship with the great multi- gold medallist Carl Lewis, who coached Sri Chinmoy’s own sprinting and in turn was guided by Sri Chinmoy in the mental and spiritual aspects of training, the realm where the body can transcend its limitations through concentration and meditation. In later memoirs, Sri Chinmoy recalls Carl Lewis giving him several of the latter’s Olympic mementos:
“His kindness-flooded heart has given me not one, not two, but three of his immortal achievements. In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, right after winning the 200 metres, he gave me his victory-bouquet. In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, immediately after winning the long jump, he gave me his long jump shoes. And in the 1991 Tokyo World Championships, after becoming the fastest human with his world-record victory-speed, he gave me his sprinting shoes. Carl Lewis, my Sudhahota, my aspiration-heart and my dedication-life are all gratitude to you and to your heart’s vastness-magnanimity.”
Sri Chinmoy had long running friendships with many Olympic legends, including Jesse Owens and Emil Zatopek. A triple gold medallist from Czechoslovakia who won the 5,000-metre run, the 10,000-metre run and the marathon in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Zatopek is quoted by Sri Chinmoy in the spiritual teacher’s book about Zatopek:
“Says Zatopek: “For me, the 1948 Olympics was a liberation of the spirit. After all those dark days of the war, the bombing, the killing, the starvation, the revival of the Olympics was as if the sun had come out. I went into the Olympic Village in 1948 and suddenly there were no more frontiers, no more barriers. Just the people meeting together. It was wonderfully warm. Men and women who had lost five years of life were back again.”
Sri Chinmoy always encouraged people to never make a pact with ageing but to maintain fitness and vigor and health as long as possible. Speaking of senior age Olympians he comments: “Here these people who are advanced in life are trying to defy the attacks of self-doubt, frustration, failure and so many negative things. As we advance in age, incapacity lords it over us. We can no longer do this, we can no longer do that. Ten years ago we did it, but now we cannot run fast, we are unable to do so many things. Then we become frustrated. But the Senior Olympians are saying, “No! We are still walking along the same road. Sometimes we are sprinting, sometimes we are running, sometimes we are jogging, and sometimes we are crawling. But as long as we keep to the same road, we will reach the destination.”