The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, wrapped up on Sunday, Aug. 21. Some 11,551 athletes from 207 nations participated in 306 events in 28 sports.
In ancient Greece, athletes from the various kingdoms and city-states would meet at the Temple of Zeus in Olympia on the Peloponnese to compete in honor of the gods.
The so-called Olympic Truce did not halt wars between these states as many people believe — human warfare is perhaps our one unifying constant — but it did permit athletes and pilgrims to travel freely from their home cities to the games and back under the protection of Zeus.
At the 2016 Opening Ceremonies, the Refugee Olympic Team entered the stadium just before the host nation, Brazil. The team is comprised of two athletes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, one from Ethiopia, two from Syria and five from South Sudan. While they received a standing ovation from citizens of every nation on Earth, it must be a particularly cruel irony to see the world stand up for refugee athletes, but fail to stand up to end the wars and crises that made them refugees.
The games have given other amazing moments and images: New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin helping American runner Abbey D’Agostino get back up after they collided in the 5,000 meter, Bahamian sprinter Shaunae Miller diving across the finish line to win the 400 meter, tiny Fiji defeating mighty Great Britain in rugby to win the nation’s first-ever gold, the multiculturalism of the bronze-medal-winning American women’s sabre fencing team, one of whose members competed in a hijab, Lithuanian weightlifter Aurimas Didzbalis celebrating his bronze with a backflip and insanely fast Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s smiling face as he turned and looked back to see himself racing a full length-and-a-half ahead of his foes in the 100 meter.
American swimmer Michael Phelps earned five golds and a silver and is now the most decorated Olympian of all time with 23 golds and 28 total medals.
Fellow swimmer Katie Ledecky won five golds, a profound accomplishment for any 19-year-old.
Perhaps the most amazing performance was by the women’s gymnastics team. Athletes Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman demonstrated power and grace in equal measure, winning both individual and all-around gold medals as well as a handful of silvers and a bronze.
The United States won the medal count, as we often do in part because of sending the largest number of competing athletes: 554 this year, well beyond China with 413, Great Britain at 366 and Russia at 282.
But whether a nation wins a fistful of golds or merely sends a single competitor, our athletes share the same fields, tracks, pools, rings, stadiums and arenas as equals, competing in peace with politics forgotten on the trophy platforms.
The Olympic Games remind us that no matter our nationality, faith, ideology or creed, the human body we all share is a wondrous thing, capable of profound achievements when pushed to its limits.