With advancements in technology, science, and the popularity of the event that occurs once every four years, we find ourselves watching, cheering, and even tweeting the greatest athletes to have ever walked the face of the Earth. So, naturally the discussions regarding the accolade, “greatest Olympian of all time” will dominate multiple households, websites, and TV screens for the next few weeks. “Faster. Higher. Stronger” is the motto of the XXX Olympiad games and has been for the whole of the modern era; therefore, the question arises. Who best embodies this motto? Out of the multitudes of international heroes who have graced the world’s grandest stage with their mesmerizing and often inspiring performances, out of the many iconic symbols who history has propelled into mythical and legendary status, who amongst them best defines the realization of the Olympic dream? Most pundits would give the honour to the great Michael Phelps with his astonishing mark of 22 Olympic medals with 18 of them being plated in gold. Or do you believe it would be unfair to bestow such a distinction merely due to medal count, especially since it is not plausible in many Olympic sports to accumulate such a collection within one lifetime; consequently, is the only logical answer Usain Bolt? With his outstanding ability to deliver and truly entertain the World like no other. With mind boggling concerts of majestic sprinting every time he steps on an Olympic track? But surely the great Jamaican cannot possibly be awarded the title for he is not even the most decorated athlete in the history of his own Olympic discipline. Sprint legends such as Carl Lewis and Jesse Owens rival and eclipse Bolt’s championships and records total. Both men only needed one Olympic appearance to achieve what Bolt has done in two Olympics which is amass four gold medals and two world records. So who possibly can be credited with being the greatest Olympian?
The answer is no one. No individual in history can own the the right to be referred to as the greatest Olympian, for this title is not determined by medals or records. The requirements of this title are beyond measurement and thus cannot exist. In the Summer of 1968 the hub of Central America, that is Mexico City, was the host site of the 19th Olympiad and it was there where Ethiopian Marathon great Mamo Walde stamped his legacy on the event with a dominant performance over the rest of the field, but the story on that race was not centred around Walde’s momentous victory, but on another man’s refusal of defeat. John Akhwari of Tanzania made his first and most memorable Olympic appearance in the Marathon that night within the Mexican capital. He came in as an “under dog”, a flimsy hope from a poverty ridden country, and a miracle was needed for him to medal. Thanks to a fall which caused him to dislocate his knee and severely cut his shoulder on the 19th km of the 42km race, Akhwari certainly did not medal. Like the rest of the field the injured athlete was completely helpless to stop the Ethiopian legend from marching towards a gold medal but hours after Walde crossed the line and the large crowd that had attended the games had vacated their seats, the tall emaciated figure of the Tanzanian appeared hobbling into the Olympic Stadium. Bandaged and bruised with blood flowing down his arm and tears flowing down his cheeks, he crossed the white line on the track that signified he had completed the event that is arguably the greatest test of perseverance and determination the Olympics has to offer. Finally after a few moments of confusion, one of the last few journalist who still remained approached the exhausted Olympian and asked why he had chosen not to comply with his understandably painful injury and withdrawn from the race? The man replied, “my country did not send me 10,000 miles to start the race; my country sent me 10,000miles to finish”.
So what makes Michael Phelps’ or Usain Bolt’s or anyone’s Olympic career any greater than that of this man? Certainly great champions deserve the respect and reverence they receive, but the Olympics are about much more than winning. They are a celebration of the greatest gifts and testaments that humanity has to offer. Olympians are not pawns in a global competition for international supremacy; instead, they are microcosms of their own respective nations with each having their own unique story of struggle but more importantly with each having their own story of perseverance. The perseverance that catapulted them to now stand in front of the world and embody all that is fair and great about mankind. The Olympic motto, “faster, higher, stronger” does not mean to go faster, reach higher, or be stronger than your opponent. It simply means faster, higher, or stronger is a creed designed to be personalized and inspire all who range from the most dominant of champions to the most obscure of competitors and to believe that there is always room for improvement and advancement within your own life; so it is only logical that it is practiced by every true athlete within their life. Due to that reasoning, we are not to compare and contrast these athletes just as we are not to compare and contrast ourselves amongst our peers, but simply to understand the struggle and joy within our own lives and within our world. Since no two struggles are the same; it would be foolish to critique and compare who possesses more valour. The Olympic spirit is not meant to be judged but to be admired, and this should hold the same for the athletes.