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Breaking records and barriers: a couch potato’s Olympics experience

Billy Galant

Shankari Sureshbabu, Columnist

From the inhuman midair flips of American gymnast Simone Biles to the University’s very own Bahamian trackstar Pedrya Seymour, the entire world came together again this summer to watch the Olympics, an event so spectacular that it can inspire even us couch potatoes.

The 2016 Rio Olympics might have been swarmed with controversy, from the political scandals in Brazil to the dreaded Zika virus, but the valor of the Olympians is certainly not lacking.

Amidst one of the most polarizing elections ever, it’s wonderful to see that we can all come together once again to partake in America’s favorite unifying hobby: watching resident merman Michael Phelps win everything.

But why do we, mere mortals of below-average athletic ability and typically little interest in how quickly a person can swim 200 meters via breaststroke, suddenly tune in to watch Simone stick the landing on her vault and Usain Bolt defend his title as fastest man alive?

By listening to Biles’ interviews, it’s pretty easy to see. Rising above complications in her childhood, she worked hard every day to become a walking inspiration at only 4-foot-9 and 19 years old.

She talks about how she’s trained on holidays and skipped her prom to practice. Her determination and work ethic made even me, the Katie Ledecky of taking naps, make plans about working out at the ARC.

People, particularly we lackadaisical Americans, care about the Olympics because these athletes are impressive, not only in their sport, but in their unbeatable perseverance, hard work and willpower.

To watch their long-held dreams finally be realized on an international platform is captivating for even the most unsporty person.

When the world comes together to celebrate these wonderful athletes, it’s impossible not to watch in awe. Olympians this year smashed not only physical records, but social barriers.

It was the first year that a team of refugees contested. A group of 10 refugees from different countries of origin that qualified for the Olympics were picked from an initial group of 43.

These 10 athletes competed under the Olympic flag, and as IOC President Thomas Bach said, “will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in the world.”

Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to medal in an individual swimming event when she tied for gold in the Women’s 100m freestyle. Manuel won a total of two gold and two silver medals after all was said and done. Ibtihaj Muhammad was the first U.S. Olympian to wear a hijab while competing and won bronze in fencing.

These social advancements may seem small, but representation of diverse athletes on a global stage can be monumental in the minds of young children and our future Olympians.

People underestimate how much it means that children of all races can have role models who look like them.

Along with racial benchmarks, discussion of feminism’s role in the Olympics has perked up in recent weeks.

From Kim Kardashian denouncing the title to Barack Obama proudly saying he’s a feminist, it’s hard to know which role model to listen to. Although most reasonable people can see that it’s 2016 and it’s high time we prioritize fairness, women are still not always given the equal opportunities they deserve.

However, in a wonderful step forward, women have been crushing it in the Rio Olympics. From the Final Five to Katie Ledecky, there is certainly no shortage of female superstars in this year’s games that are on center stage.  

In fact, this year there are more women on the U.S. team than men. Unfortunately, even though there was a lot of progress made, there is still room for improvement.

Olympic announcers were often caught attributing the success of female athletes to their male coaches or significant others. When trapshooter Corey Cogdell won a bronze medal, some news outlets omitted her name in headlines and referred to her simply as the “wife of a Chicago Bears’ lineman.”

Backlash to these headlines was widespread, representing just another small step toward female empowerment which young girls dreaming about their own Olympic careers are sure to appreciate.

Although it seemed like it was going to be an inevitable mess, for the most part, Rio rose above and the Olympics proved to be as interesting and inspiring as ever.

From Katie Ledecky smashing aquatic glass ceilings to the first refugee team, there have been plenty of memorable moments during these games that have motivated even my lazy self.

We, the couch potatoes of America, should use our Olympic inspiration to be better, both on and off the field (but most likely off the field).  With Olympian-like motivation, I hope everyone crushes this upcoming year!

Shankari is a sophomore in LAS.

surshbb2@dailyillini.com

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