How many times in the last couple weeks have you watched in wonder as a world swimming record was shattered, a high diver spun 10 meters above the water, and a gymnast executed a flawless routine on the parallel bars? How many times did you hum along to the United States national anthem and feel your heart flutter with pride as our flag was raised at a medal ceremony? If you’re like most of us, it happened often.
For that and more, we thank the 31st Olympiad.
Thank you for a welcome relief from the divisiveness of the current political season - for letting us all thrill to the chant of “USA, USA”, and applaud every time an Olympic champion held the stars and stripes aloft in a joyful victory lap. Thank you for reminding us of values we share – the importance of teamwork, the belief in hard work and self-determination, that fair play is more important than personal advantage, and grace can be found in victory or defeat. For two weeks, we were all on the same magnificent team.
Thank you for the chance to cheer our most elite athletes. We were dazzled by the strength, endurance and talent of Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, Ashton Eaton, Nathan Adrian, Kerry Walsh Jennings and April Ross, Christian Taylor, Simone Manuel among many others. And of course, there was Michael Phelps, nearly as admirable in his fifth Olympics for turning his life around in the wake of substance abuse as he was for expanding his Olympic gold medals to a staggering 23.
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This was reality television as its best – unscripted, inspiring, true stories of struggle and triumph.
A special shout-out goes to our local Olympians: Charlotte’s gold medal winner Ryan Lochte, as well as fellow swim team members Kathleen Baker and gold medalist Anthony Ervin; Mount Holly's Casey Eichfeld and Gastonia's Michal Smolen, members of the canoe and kayak teams respectively; as well as N.C. State’s swimming star, Ryan Held, and Duke University’s ace diver, Abby Johnston. Additionally, swimmers Cammile Adams, Katie Meili and Jimmy Feigen, all native Texans, made Charlotte their home while they honed their skills for Rio.
And finally, thank you 31st Olympiad for the ever-affirming ritual of the games themselves, which unite athletes from different countries, cultures, backgrounds and beliefs in friendly competition. The sight of competitors congratulating their rivals with an embrace is always heartening, perhaps more than ever now. A selfie between two gymnasts from North Korea and South Korea went viral, a testament to the hopes and ideals inherent in the Olympics. And for the first time ever, a team of refugees was welcomed at the Olympics. Athletes from Sudan, Syria, Ethiopia and Congo received a standing ovation at opening ceremonies and moved a worldwide audience to tears.
We congratulate the International Olympic Committee and the people of Rio de Janeiro on a most successful Olympics and for making the first South American games an unforgettable one. The Olympic flame was extinguished on Sunday but our memories will burn brightly for years to come.