Scrap the Super Bowl. Forget the Final Four. Write off the World Series and the World Cup. No athletic competition on the planet can match the grace, guts and glory of the Olympic Games. I love everything about the Olympics: The personal dedication of the athletes. The precision and power of the competitions. The national, ethnic and religious pluralism of the event itself. I even love the pageantry, spectacle and occasional schmaltz of the Opening Ceremonies. Remember the tribute to the Greek god Zeus and the "five Olympic Spirits" at the opening of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta? "Now the people of the world are becoming a mixture of one family as they create a mountain of humanity," NBC's Dick Enberg said as we watched colors and figures mingle on the field. "Now the tribute to the supreme Greek god in whose honor the Olympics were once held ... " "And now the five Olympic spirits awaken ..." Salt Lake City's "mountain of humanity" will be snowcapped, so the 2002 Winter Olympics might be too cold for Greek gods. But Olympic organizers are making sure there's plenty of room for other gods. Since 1998, members of Salt Lake's Olympic Interfaith Roundtable have been preparing to serve athletes and visitors of many faiths. They renovated an old Army chapel and opened an Interfaith Center for counseling, prayer and worship. They trained 40 chaplains to minister round-the-clock to adherents of 19 faiths. This Olympic team includes a Baha'i, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Christian Scientist, a Seventh Day Adventist, and a Quaker, among others. "They have to be able to minister to anyone, regardless of their religion," the Rev. Silvia Behrend, a Unitarian pastor and Roundtable member, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "There is a clear mandate against proselytizing." That goes for Utah's predominant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose leaders have ordered a moratorium on proselytizing during the Games. The Roundtable printed 5,000 Olympic editions of "A World of Faith," a book that introduces children to 28 faith groups, from the Amish to the Zoroastrians. "Many people know little or nothing about faiths other than their own," author Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote in the introduction. "The Olympic Winter Games provide a chance for global understanding." Olympic chaplains led an international, interfaith service in Salt Lake City, dedicating the Olympic Peace Pole Path that is lined with 80 four-sided Peace Poles. Two sides of each pole say, "May Peace Prevail on Earth," one in English and the other in French, the official Olympic languages. A third side says it in the language of one of the 80 nations represented in these Games. A fourth side briefly explains the Olympic Truce, a United Nations resolution calling for safe passage of all Olympic competitors. "The Truce attempts to build upon the friendship, solidarity and cooperation between nations that are at the heart of the true Olympic spirit."
No offense, Mr. Enberg, but that's the one and only Olympic spirit.