The Olympic Paradox

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I am devastated that Jason Turner did not win a bronze medal.

I have no idea who Jason Turner is.

Welcome to the Olympics.

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I confess, I did virtually no homework on the subject of the men’s 10-meter air pistol in advance of these Games. The Summer Olympics’ 301 events are simply too many for one person to know about all of them. For me, the 10-meter pistol was one event to slip through the cracks.

But there was Jason Turner, goateed and steely-eyed Saturday afternoon, in bronze-medal position with two shots left.

I am a journalist, I remind myself. I am a fan of sport. I love every athlete equally.

But I am also an American. That seems the more relevant biographical tidbit as Turner lines up his final two shots: 8.9, 9.7.

South Korean Kim Jong Su shoots: 10.3, 10.0.

Fourth place and disappointment.

This is a dangerous path. The Olympics implore us to love sport. To do so is to love the Olympics without reservation. In every medal is triumph. Beauty knows no country. To see Chinese divers, Brazilian soccer players, and Australian swimmers is to know this.

But with those little flags beside every athlete’s name, the Olympics also evoke another instinct: nationalism. Olympic historians will tell you that this as been a key part – if not they key part – of the Olympics since chariot racing was on the program.

Yes, we thank Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, for the ideals of peace and brotherhood through competition. Noble stuff, that. But really, please just beat the Chinese, or the Soviets, or whoever.

Of course, even amid the sometimes searing intensity of national pride, we do care about those ideals quite a lot. That is what makes the Olympics theater rather than just a quadrennial festival of sports that most Americans have never heard of.

It’s just important, when Jason Turner lines up his shot, to remember that.

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