Culture At Large

The heavenly oddness of the Olympics’ closing ceremonies

Monica Selby

The 30th Olympiad ended much the way it began: with loud, random British-ness, punctuated by fireworks. The closing ceremonies consisted of a homage to all things British, from Winston Churchill quoting Shakespeare to supermodels to a psychedelic set by Fatboy Slim, serving as DJ from inside an octopus (naturally).

The Olympics are something like Christmas. We anticipate them for months with torch relays and countdown apps. All but the diehards crash midway through and swear off the Olympics forever. Then we all come together for a big party and start anticipating the next go-round.

Now - post-closing ceremony - is the time for reflection.

There were some amazing stories this Olympiad. Michael Phelps smashed the 48-year-old record for number of Olympic medals. Gabby Douglas won gold, along with the entire women’s gymnastics team. Galen Rupp’s silver medal in the 10k ended a 44-year drought of American medalists in that event. The women’s soccer and men’s basketball teams won gold, as did Misty May-Traenor and Kerri Walsh in volleyball. And the most important set of numbers for many Americans: the United States’ 104 medals obliterated China’s 87.

Of course, Olympic stories are not only American nor only about medals. Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee, is now a household name despite falling short of the podium. South Sudanese marathoner Guor Marial ran without a country. One of three Lost Boys of Sudan in this Olympics, he ran under the Olympic banner because the new country of South Sudan does not yet have an Olympic Committee.

The closing ceremonies included homages to all things British, from Winston Churchill quoting Shakespeare to supermodels to a psychedelic set by Fatboy Slim, serving as DJ from inside an octopus (naturally).

The London Games are considered to be an overall success. Despite the prime location and timing, there were no terrorist attacks of any kind. Apparently, London traffic was no worse than normal. The London Olympic Committee was also the first one to include a “green, sustainable” plan as they prepared venues.

However, we’re talking about an event involving millions of fallen people, from organizers to fans. Like any other similar endeavor, we can’t say the Olympics were perfect.

Saudi Arabia sent two women to the games, a first for that country. However, it was under threats of exclusion from future games and resulted in an uproar in Saudi Arabia. Thanks to ESPN, our fears about the Olympic Village were confirmed. Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen broke two records, but the head of the American Swimming Coaches Association accused her of doping, even though drug tests came back clean.

Yes, the Olympic Games are a uniquely human mix of both the good and the bad our species has to offer. Every four years as the games unfold, we watch the joys and triumphs as well as the defeats and scandals.

And, along the way, these games make us long for heaven.

There is perhaps nothing more beautiful than the parade of nations at the beginning of the Games or the entrance of the athletes into the closing ceremonies. As we watch foreign faces that don’t inhabit our towns stream by on the screen, we are getting a glimpse of heaven. When we watch human bodies and human emotions pushed to the limit, we can rejoice in what God made.

When we see the brokenness and the ugliness that so often arises, we remember that this world is great, but it is not our final home. We remember to long for the Savior that will heal the wounds we endure and inflict.

During the entrance of the athletes at the closing ceremonies, NBC commentator Al Michaels said, “The world as one, at least for one night.” Christian or not, there’s a part of every human soul that longs for Christ and the unity that He will accomplish in the end. As Christians, we can accept the Games for all that they are, good and bad. We can rejoice and mourn with the rest of the world. And we can remember to hope for the heaven to come.

What Do You Think?

  • What were the most notable stories to come out of this Olympics?
  • Do the Olympics remind you more of humanity’s potential glory or our fallen state?
  • What human activities do you feel capture a bit of the grandeur of heaven?

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Sports, News & Politics, World