#360USA: Team USA looking to set an example in Rio

Steve Brenner 11:40 09/08/2016
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Aiming for history: Simone Biles.

There’s no better place than the Olympics to reinforce a country’s pride. With the world watching, it’s a time for people to temporarily look past politics and societal upset.

Athletic endeavour and the tears of triumph are the kind of traits to keep viewers entranced no matter which flag is draped around the protagonists’ shoulders. And that is why Rio 2016 is a key moment for Team USA.

The 555-strong delegation arrived in Brazil with much of the world gazing at affairs closer to home with jaws fixed wide open. The looming, petrifying spectre of Donald Trump becoming president has terribly clouded judgement of the American ideal. People are laughing at the United States and it didn’t take long for the jokes to flow about their first gold coming in shooting.

Over the next two weeks, however, sporting prowess can help momentarily restore hope and bring the country closer together while giving some doubters food for thought. Certainly, the ideal of Team USA appeals to the wider public here.

Baseball, American football and basketball fans never really have the chance to see true international battles. Women’s soccer is a big deal (the men’s team failed to qualify for the second Olympics in a row) and the support garnered during World Cup tournaments prove their importance. Yet for the multitude of other various sporting endeavours on show, Americans have been ordered by the never ending flow of commercials latching on to the power of the magical five rings to get behind their boys and girls.

With 104 medals won in London (46 golds in all) there will be much to cheer this time around too. Reputations will be enhanced. Household names will emerge.

Michael Phelps aims to end his legacy by adding to his 18 gold medals. Simone Biles, a 19-year-old from Texas, is being tipped to create history by winning three separate events and become the most decorated US gymnast star of all time.

Team USA includes 263 men and 292 women – a record for female competitors which eclipses China’s record in Beijing. Demonstrating admirable levels of self consciousness, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) have hammered into the athletes the importance of doing their talking on the track, rather than off it.

There has been plenty to moan about thus far. Inadequate lodgings, unfinished infrastructure, dodgy food and suspect blood samples. The US stars however, have been told to place faith in their bosses to sort out any problems.

Moaning while millions of Brazilians endure hardships, the kind of which these highly tuned sportsmen and women will never experience, won’t be tolerated.

Team USA are under orders not to antagonise those who will jump on the merest hint of arrogance or dismissiveness towards genial hosts. After all, there are enough reasons to dislike America. Don’t give people a whole load more.

It’s a commendable move and illustrates the kind of good grace which opitimises the Olympic ideal. Many top level athletes live in a bubble of self importance, ridiculous wealth and a galaxy of hangers-on. Those who train for four years under the radar however are supposed to be different.

Plus, with the bid for Los Angeles to host the greatest show on earth in 2024, everyone needs to be on their best behaviour.

Gunning for a 19th title: Michael Phelps.

Gunning for a 19th title: Michael Phelps.

“Sport, and the Olympic movement in particular, has always had a unique ability to inspire our nation and united the world,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun. “These Olympic Games will be no different in that regard as 555 Americans rise to their best and make our nation proud.”

Many rightly believe that Ibtihaj Muhammad, the Muslim fencer from New Jersey, should have been the flag bearer instead of Phelps.

Nevertheless, her mere presence has hopefully spiked some of the anti-immigration feeling whipped up by Trump and his crazed disciples. The 31-year-old represents the modern America. A place where dreams really can be made regardless of faith or background.

Running fast or jumping higher than anyone else won’t eradicate the multitude of problems haunting the United States. Those wearing the Stars and Stripes, however, can help alter minds and partly fix muddled perceptions.

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