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The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat

posted by ellen leventry

Sure we watch the Olympics for the fantastic athletic competitions, but what we really love is the human drama behind those achievements. And while the past few days have been full of drama–Michelle Kwan relinquishing her spot, Bode Miller not medaling–it’s the truly Olympic moments of overcoming adversity and elevating the human spirit that keep us glued to the television for 16 straight days.

Team USA speedskater Chad Hedrick, competing in his first Olympics, honored the 13th anniversary of his grandmother Geraldine’s death with a gold medal win, the first for the U.S. Overwhelmed by the memories of his grandmother, Hedrick, who began openly weeping during his warm-up, wrote her name on the blade of his skate and offered up his performance to her.

Days later, fellow speedskating teammate Joey Cheek, who flew to a gold medal in the men’s 500-meter sprint, announced he will be donating his $25,000 Olympic bonus to Right to Play, an organization started by Cheek’s inspiration and five-time Olympic medalist speedskater Johann Olav Koss. The organization “uses sport and play as a tool for the development of children and youth in the most disadvantaged areas of the world.”

Meanwhile, over at the Palavela Arena, the figure skaters are showing the world that grace and strength are not incompatible. Favorites Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin overcame confidence issues and skated their way to gold after Totimiana suffered a devastating injury in 2004, when Marinin dropped her from a lift. But it was Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China who elicited cheers and tears from the audience at the rink and at home. Attempting a throw quad salchow, Zhang Dan came crashing to the ice, badly injuring her left knee. After skating about for a few minutes and getting the all-clear from their trainer, the pair went on to skate a passionate performance and garnered a hard-earned silver medal.

With these heartfelt and heartwrenching performances in mind, we’re wondering what your favorite inspirational Olympic moments have been so far in this Olympiad. Use the comments link to let us know.

Opening “The White Rose”

posted by burb

Sophie Scholl, executed in 1943 at age 21 for resisting the Nazi regime, has long been a heroine of conscience in Germany, even though the full details of her interrogation and demise weren’t known until recently. A new feature film, “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days”–an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film–opens in New York this Friday and across the country in the following weeks.

Scholl was a member, with her brother Hans, of a small circle of university students and teachers in Munich who called themselves “The White Rose.” Distributing leaflets denouncing Hitler and telling the truth about Nazi repression, the group hoped to rouse fellow academics and intellectuals to action. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Scholl was a devout Lutheran who thought that a Christian living under a dictatory ship had a clear moral duty. As a Christian, Scholl said, resistance “was the least I could do.”

The story of her arrest is well known—she was spotted tossing leaflets from a balcony at the university—but her defiance before the Nazi “People’s Court” only came to light as Third Reich archives were opened in the mid-’80s. “The Final Days” is the story of her trial.

Free Pedro

posted by burb

I understand the evangelical Christian t-shirt industry’s impulse to turn every catchphrase and mass-culture motto to Jesus’ purposes. A good “Got Jesus?” surfer tee reminds the faithful to keep their eyes on the prize and telegraphs to nonbelievers that serious religion can have a sense of humor.

But isn’t it a tweak too far when a t-shirt re-purposes a phrase made popular by “Napolean Dyanmite,” a movie created by Mormons?

“Crash”: On a Collision Course with Oscar?

posted by kris rasmussen

“You think you know who you are, but you have no idea.” That line is both an ominous warning and a promise of hope, and it exemplifies the moral complexity of the Oscar-nominated film “Crash.” Forget the gay cowboys, unconscionable terrorists, eccentric authors, and desperate transgender parents; “Crash” has been slowly picking up speed by winning at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, and the Writer’s Guild Awards–and it is my pick for an Oscar upset.

Writer and director Paul Haggis’s unflinching examination of the lives of a socially and ethnically diverse group of Los Angeles residents, as they collide with each other both physically and emotionally, is a searing look inside the human soul. Haggis (“Million Dollar Baby”) deftly orchestrates a gut-wrenching journey, which takes place over the course of a mere 36 hours. During that time, we witness a politician’s wife, a rookie cop, a T.V. producer, and an immigrant gun-shop owner each being violated, and then in turn becoming violent themselves.

What makes “Crash” different from other films that have dealt with racism and social injustice is the subtle way the story exposes the insidious nature of hatred and bitterness and its effects on the human spirit. It eats away at self-worth while slowly breaking apart the bonds of marital intimacy and family loyalty. Instead of simplistic racist stereotypes, we discover multifaceted characters who slowly begin to recognize the spiritual poverty of their souls. As the men and women in this film find their prejudices and fears violently exposed, each one must wrestle with the decision to perpetuate or end the cycle of hate. For those that choose to be free of anger and hate, a miracle happens: They can begin to recognize and receive grace and forgiveness, whether in the kind words of a Mexican housekeeper or in the miraculous intervention of a child to save her father’s life.

So while “Crash” is uncomfortable and unnerving, we would all do well to reflect on its message. Because no matter who we are on the outside, where we live, or how we were raised, our spirits are hungry for many of the same things–respect, understanding, forgiveness, compassion, and justice. It’s how we feed that spiritual hunger that makes any one of us truly capable of the most heroic actions or the most vicious of actions.

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