Isn't it fun to share the triumph of dedicated athletes competing in the Summer Olympic Games in Athens?
What American could help smiling as we witnessed gymnast Paul Hamm's disbelief as he learned that his spectacular performance on the last two legs of his competition had earned him the gold medal as the best all-around male gymnast at the games? How could you not share the anxiety of tiny Carly Patterson as she bit her lip before launching into her final gymnastic routine and rejoice with her four tumbling passes later when she won the gold medal?
How about those U.S. swimmers who have racked up so many medals? Both veterans and newcomers are having an outstanding Olympics that have included some spectacular finishes. It's a special treat to see the shared joy of a relay victory. Michael Phelps, who is winning medal after medal, seemed to save his biggest smiles and whoops for celebrations with his teammates after a relay win.
Much of the early coverage of the games has been focused on swimming and gymnastics, but marquee track and field events also are on the schedule along with volleyball, water polo, basketball and many other competitions.
Given the various controversies concerning the use of illegal drugs by athletes, it would be understandable if Olympics fans around the world were a bit jaded about the competitions. But once the games begin, it's hard not to get caught up in the human dramas of victory and defeat.
The drugs, of course, can't be ignored. Officials are right to crack down hard on the use of illegal substances in an effort to preserve the integrity of the games. Over the long haul, nothing would chip away faster at international support for the games than the demise of its reputation as a pure exhibition of athletic talent and determination.
Most of us never even dreamed of being an Olympic athlete, and yet all of us have dreams of some kind. Seeing competitors who have worked so hard realize their dreams of being part of the Olympics, in some ways, makes all of our dreams seem a little more possible. There's just something uplifting about watching the human spirit take flight in these athletes, taking them to heights even they may have thought weren't possible.
There probably are many deep, psychological explanations for why watching the accomplishments of others makes us feel so good. Let's not worry about those now. Let's just enjoy the competition and the smiles and warm feelings they bring to us all.