The Olympic Games Celebrate the Mind

by | Sep 30, 2000 | POLITICS

Here I stand at the first great climax of my life. I, Dicon of Athens, wait in this grand stadium beside the river Alpheus. I am the proud progeny of my city’s dedication to the perfection of mind and body, and gathered around me are athletes from all the Greek world, from as far away […]

Here I stand at the first great climax of my life. I, Dicon of Athens, wait in this grand stadium beside the river Alpheus.

I am the proud progeny of my city’s dedication to the perfection of mind and body, and gathered around me are athletes from all the Greek world, from as far away as Italy, Asia Minor, Africa. We await the trumpet blast that will start the first race — one length of this stadium — of these Games of Olympia.

I shall win this race. To do so, I must be swifter than Hermes and wilier than Zeus. I have learned that it is not the body that separates athletes at the finish line, but the mind.

When I began my quest four years ago, I was strong of limb but not of thought. Then I learned to plan in years, not minutes, to reject siren calls to feast on stag, converse with friends, dance with women. Day upon day, alone, I strained up hills, down river beds, across fields; I kneeled, dashed, bent many thousands of times — getting my mind into shape. I disciplined it not to surrender to my heaving chest, burning sinew or aching bone. I made myself stronger remembering my purpose and imagining the ecstasy of victory, past and future.

And in the tired light of early morning I have stared inward and asked: Is my body so spent that I must forget my training, my dream? Or is this a self-deception and instead should I rise again to conquer my body? I have always risen. Athletes are not born, they are trained — by the athlete and his will.

And to those who call me selfish, I laugh. Of course. How else — and why else — would I endure such a struggle as all these years? Running is ambrosia to my soul.

What is this cheer racing around the stadium? Petros, the Ilonian, another of my competitors, is entering. His eyes are not to where he strides, but on those who walk beside him: orators, poets, sculptors. But he will learn today that a mind ruled by a heart demanding fame and applause is not strong enough to win great victories.

I have learned that success flows from the mind’s mastery of the heart. Then one can be strong enough to keep one’s gaze on the lonely road that marks any great journey. Then one has the mettle to banish from one’s heart its greatest foe: self-doubt. Invincible, that is how a runner must feel about himself. But self-assurance is earned — through training and competing at ever higher levels and by never surrendering to failure or fear. To allow this betrayal is to let the carrion bird of doubt peck away at one’s resolve until all that is left are commonplace goals, commonplace passions, commonplace actions — and no confidence in one’s self. To master one’s own heart is harder than to run from Marathon to Athens, but to achieve this is truly strength.

I also banish from my heart its proper feelings — if they would divert me. Sixty days ago a messenger whispered to my ear that my mother, whom I love, had died. But not one tear for her have I cried. I have labored too hard and too long to falter now, so I hid my grief in a dark place and will weep for her only when this race is won.

A trumpet fanfare. It heralds the man who once would have made me fear, that master of logic and tactic, pupil of the philosopher Aristotle. He walks alone towards the starting line, his eyes piercing forward, as if seeing beyond all borders. Prince Alexander of Macedon.

But I have always been a better thinker than my competitors, as I will be against the prince who now stands beside me. After listening carefully to reports of all his races, I know his strategies and weaknesses. From the first footfall, I will lead and seize the path on his right flank. These positions he has never conceded, and failing to win them his confidence will stutter. Alexander will chase my heels.

The judges are reaching the far end of the stadium. Now I must ready my mind for this my greatest battle on the field of individual excellence. I close my eyes and in my mind watch myself run my race, flawlessly. Every muscle, every breath, every thought, every feeling now one, weightless and sure, like a perfect wave rolling across a lake.

My eyes open to the drumbeat summoning the final eight to this line. Fifty thousand voices for excellence cheer, then hush to silence. Runners kneel. I face the finish line like an arrow pointed at a target, all my being focused on hearing that next trumpet.

I am already a winner for I have learned life’s great lesson: that the mind leads. It is the master of my life. I can now lift my eyes, not just to the finish line, but to any horizon I choose. I shall choose many, and well.

May the Olympic Games always shine as the torch of the human mind. Then they will be forever to the glory of man and for man.

I am ready. Let the Games begin.

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Scott McConnell is a writer and story consultant.

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