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Opinion

America's young 2012 Olympians are its future

Gymnast Gabby Douglas, runner Galen Rupp, the women's 400-meter relay team: America got a clear glimpse of its bright future at the 2012 Olympics as 'Millennial Generation' Olympians exhibited their unique take on the country’s traditional pride, diversity, and can-do spirit.

By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais / August 14, 2012

US women's relay team members from left, Sanya Richards-Ross, Francena McCorory, Allyson Felix, and Deedee Trotter wear their national flag after their gold medal win in the 4 x 400-meter relay at the 2012 Olympics in London Aug. 11. Op-ed contributors Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais write: 'Millennial pride-in-country rarely, if ever, became bragging jingoism when Americans won or sour grapes when they lost.'

Martin Meissner/AP

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Arcadia, Calif.

America got a clear glimpse of its bright future at the 2012 Olympics as the “Millennial Generation” Olympians exhibited their unique take on the country’s traditional pride, diversity, and can-do spirit.

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Millennials (Americans born in 1982 through 2003) comprised the bulk of the US team that averaged 27 years of age. Their generation’s focus on the success of the larger group was evident in these ways during the competition: 

Patriotism without jingoism. Millennials’ pride in their country, without excessive nationalism, was constantly on display in London. A 2011 Pew survey indicated that 70 percent of Millennials describe themselves as “very patriotic,” but only a third said that the United States is the “greatest country in the world.” That contrasts strikingly with two-thirds of senior citizens and half of baby boomers who think America is the best.

Each member of the gold-medal winning US women’s 400-meter relay team wrapped herself in her own American flag and beamed at the scoreboard showing the team’s world-record time, each expressing her pride in competing and winning for the USA. The contrast with the two American Baby Boomer medal winners in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, who raised their fists in a black-power salute as the national anthem played, couldn’t have been greater.

But, Millennial pride-in-country rarely, if ever, became bragging jingoism when Americans won or sour grapes when they lost. Instead, US athletes seemed to appreciate and applaud the efforts of their competitors.

No story better demonstrates the willingness of this age group to cheer for their competitors than that of the men’s 10,000-meter gold- and silver-medal winners, Britain’s Mo Farah and America’s Galen Rupp. The two trained together and, as Mr. Rupp put it, are “brothers.” To Rupp, a victory for his British brother was as good as one for himself.

Diversity in more than name only. The Millennial Generation is the most diverse in US history. About 40 percent are nonwhite. This diversity was reflected in America’s Olympic team as well. Between 30 and 40 team members were foreign born and many were the children of immigrants. 

Most dramatically, Leonel Manzano, who won America’s first medal in the 1,500-meter race since 1968, is the son of an undocumented Mexican farm worker. A US citizen, Mr. Manzano waved both American and Mexican flags to celebrate the two strands of his heritage.

African-American Gabby Douglas became the first black to win a gold medal in gymnastics. She did so in typically diverse Millennial fashion, leaving her Virginia Beach, Va., home to live with a white family in Des Moines so that she could train with a Chinese-American coach.

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