I started this Olympiad with the best of intentions. Late last week, after a conversation with my mom about our shared discomfort with the whole affair, I decided (mostly on a whim) to boycott the Olympics. This was hardly an educated decision, mind you, just a gut reaction to various things I’d been hearing about how China was preparing itself and its citizens to fall under the global microscope. Call me a weekend warrior liberal if you’d like, but hey, my intentions were good.

Too bad good intentions turned out to be just about all I had. On Friday night, my husband quickly overcame any similar qualms he may have had and turned on the opening ceremonies about thirty seconds after they started. Things were already looking bad for my putative boycott — if our shared TV is tuned to the Olympics, who’s to tell that I’m not watching? I mean, should I go into the other room and tune that TV to CSI reruns, just to prove my point? No. I did manage to stay focused on my book during most of the overwhelming LED antics, but I have to admit, the costumes with the green lights on them were pretty cool. All kinds of ideas for Halloween…!

What really got me though, and what gets me every time, were the athletes themselves. As soon as they started marching out — faces gleaming, smiles radiant, bodies magnificent — my boycott was officially over. At that moment, I remembered why we watch the Olympics, why we have always loved and followed the Games, no matter what political objections we may have: we enjoy watching our fellow human beings transcend the limitations that bind us. These are the superhumans, the men and women who defy gravity and the frailty of the human body on a daily basis. They simultaneously remind us of our own weakness even as we live vicariously through their strength. Their faces echo hope, courage, confidence — traits our TV screens normally only portray as fiction.

From that moment onward, I was hooked. I have been watching the coverage on and off since then, even staying up past my bedtime for two nights running to watch the unbelievable, unflappable machine that is Michael Phelps. These are men and women at the top of their game, and they have prepared for this moment all their lives. It makes no sense to punish the athletes for the transgressions of the host country. They did not choose to compete in Beijing, it was chosen for them. They merely showed up to compete, because not doing so — whether for political, personal, or physical reasons — would have squandered four years of all-out training. Who am I to devalue their efforts by not giving them an audience?

To some, watching the Olympics might amount to tacit approval for the policies of the host country. And sure, I can see that. But that is what has always been so fascinating about the Olympics: they are symbolic of international politics, and yet they still manage to transcend them. On one level, the Olympics are about different nations meeting and competing, a safe, bloodless microcosm of global conflict. And yet they also show us the best of what it means to be human, no matter what race or nationality. Even if you resent the Chinese for stealing the gold away from us in women’s gymnastics last night, you still have to admire the skill and power that went into that feat.

So really, by watching the 2008 Olympics, I am only doing what is in my nature: I am paying tribute to those among us who strive to become more than human. By doing so, they remind us that boundaries are there to be transcended, be they physical, mental, or political.

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