OLYMPICS BLOG: Where Steve Jobs & the Olympics collide

10:47 AM, Aug 10, 2012   |    comments
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An image from Apple's front page announcing Jobs' death.



One of our 11Alive photographers has a true reverence for Steve Jobs. The day after the Apple guru died, the photographer - also named Steve - stated with conviction that we had lost someone truly special. Jobs, he said, was someone who brought people together in ways we never even think about.

We started chatting Wednesday morning, and the conversation turned again to Jobs. Steve and I compared notes about the revelatory Jobs biography that came out shortly after his death. After a few minutes of conversation, Steve shook his head and sighed.

"I'm just glad to know people like that are out there," Steve said.

And then, without warning, Steve pivoted to the Olympics.

"Same goes for the Olympics, you know. I'm glad that every four years, all the countries come together - some of them only have six athletes, but they show up - and we get to watch."

He likely didn't know it, but in those 20 seconds, Steve crystallized my own thoughts about why I - and maybe most of us - enjoy the Olympics so much.

They are an odd spectacle, these Olympic Games. We suddenly find ourselves so wrapped up in sports and athletes we rarely think about afterwards; we root so hard for people like Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, knowing that in six months we will likely view their historic Olympic performances as distant memories.

And yet, for the two weeks in which they occur, the Olympics feel so essential. And even if I don't watch every event, I feel much like Steve: I'm glad they are out there.

I'm glad because the Olympics, for the most part, provide the finest showcase of international unity. The Opening Ceremonies are particularly poignant in this regard, because they allow each country - no matter how many athletes it sends to the Games - to have its moment of recognition. Beyond that, the random athletic events connect countries in a special way - a form of unified competition.

I'm glad because the Olympics are a reminder that we are part of something bigger. Americans have it pretty good, of course; we generally only watch events in which we are supposed to win or medal, and the Olympics - particularly the Winter Games - have recently added events (i.e. snowboarding) in which the U.S. rules the roost. But I enjoy watching the lesser-heralded events - I have spent considerable time this year live-streaming judo, handball, and table tennis, where other nations get to have time in the spotlight. And on top of that, in a country where we often assume we are always the best, the Olympics reminds us that being the best in the U.S. doesn't always make you the best in the world. This planet is filled with people of amazing talents, and these two weeks provide up-front proof.

And I'm glad because, much like Steve Jobs, the Olympics take us to the very edge of possibility. Jobs is often admired because he essentially saw the future of technology and then made his vision a reality; essentially, he took us to places we never imagined. The Olympics do the same, only in terms of physical prowess. Why do people love track events so much? Maybe because they are the simplest, most primitive events in the Games - and I mean that in a great way. They strip us down to our most basic skill - the ability to move - and see who can do it faster than anyone in the world.

In these two weeks, we get to witness the finest athletes in the world - who have spent years honing specific skills - performing at speeds and abilities the rest of us can barely fathom. To quote a character from the short-lived Aaron Sorkin show "Sports Night", the Olympics often make me think to myself, "Look what we can do."

And yet, I see another thread that connects Olympic athletes and Steve Jobs: I admire them, but I don't think I would ever want to be them. In the Jobs biography, author Walter Isaacson paints Jobs as both brilliant and, to put it bluntly, an enormous jerk. He burns bridges, throws tantrums, and mistreats not just co-workers and employees but friends and family; he acts in ways that would never be tolerated were he not such a visionary. While I am awestruck by Jobs' accomplishments - and I appreciatively use several of his Apple products - I can honestly say I would never look to achieve greatness in the way he did it.

Similarly, in most cases I would never desire to live the life of an Olympian. I am not referring to demeanor in this case; I am referring to discipline. In many ways Olympic athletes live a restricted, singular lifestyle and spend years training for the one or two chances they have to win a medal. And through all that preparation, one can't possibly train to handle the extreme pressure of the moment when that race, swim, or final game takes place. I consider myself to possess a strong work ethic and ambition, but I am always astounded when I think of how Olympians train.

But, as with Jobs, I admire Olympic athletes from afar.

And, as with Jobs, I am glad they're out there.

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