The Perfect Heroes In Rio We Should Care About
Know who I really like from the 2016 Olympics?
Yes, of course, the usuals: Usain Bolt, who beams like the lightning his name suggests. Michael Phelps, for winning (and winning and winning) with class and dignity. The springy youngster Simone Biles, for thwarting gravity while displaying a soul that has been tested and found, like her gymnastics medals, golden.
And also Californian Kim Rhode, who has medaled in six straight Olympics dating back to Atlanta in 1996 and caught, generally, derision when she was being noticed at all, because her sport involves a firearm, and we are currently perplexed about such things. To her credit, Rhode hasn’t fussed once.
Yes, all of these and more personify the ambitious philosophy of the Olympic movement, that humans can, and should, devote themselves to achieving great and almost unimaginable things while retaining a fundamental sense of joy, humility and decency that unites them and their otherworldly achievements to those who only stare in wonder.
And so, who I really, really like — who, more than anyone else, in my estimation, personify the Olympic spirit — are the three Americans who (a) made Olympic history and then immediately (b) revealed how superbly grounded they are, even as they flew.
We are talking here about Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin, countrymates who, Wednesday night in Rio, swept the women’s 100 meter hurdles, establishing a precedent that also enjoys the benefit of being unbreakable.
As if that weren’t sufficiently impressive on its own, the trio enhanced their reputations in post-race interviews. And when Ali told NBC’s “Today” audience, “We prayed for this,” she meant it.
Rollins, who frequently uses social media to celebrate her Christian faith, elaborated. They weren’t just history-making athletes, they also comprised a small prayer group.
“We formed a prayer circle this morning,” she said in her post-race interview, “and we just let His presence come upon us.”
Elaborating, she said they asked that God would “help us come out here and continue to glorify Him and do the best that we can and that’s what we did.
“I’m just so excited; we are blessed,” she said. “I’m grateful to God.”
Interestingly — OK, revealingly, when you get down to it — what Castlin, the bronze medalist, had to say about gun violence subsequently dominated media reports.
To Castlin’s credit, she, like Rollins, has been consistent about what inspires her, and she came by it honestly. Her father, a hotel manager, was killed by a robber when she was 12; Seung-Hui Cho terrorized the campus in a mass-shooting rampage when she was attending Virginia Tech.
But the media’s fascination with the trendy and bizarre — How about that Ryan Lochte, huh, sports and police-blotter fans? — and its eye-rolling at the traditional says plenty about why it’s hard for any athlete to maintain the Olympic ideal.
And it’s why, as this quadrennial nears its close (and we anticipate Lochte’s absence from the Closing Ceremonies), I’m awarding my most-admired gold to the hurdling team that set an unbreakable record, then gave credit where credit was divinely due.