by Sean Anthony
Flagstaff has a long, long history as an altitude training site and that history has included, as many know, being home to an officially designated U.S. Olympic Training Site (USOTS) based at Northern Arizona University. Although we at Hypo2 have done much of what we set out to do after the closure of the NAU-based Center for High Altitude Training (more athletes from more countries in more sports, the establishment of a true high performance center through which we could serve athletes, and a greater economic impact on our community), we often find ourselves fielding some version of the question, “But what about the Olympic Rings?”
First, some context: in the USA, the Rings (along with words like “Olympic” and “Olympiad” and even the Olympic motto, “Citius Altius Fortius”) are the intellectual property of the U.S. Olympic Committee (look up the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 if you’re curious). Therefore, no one without some form of official affiliation with the USOC can use these and, even in those rare instances of affiliation, such usage is still strictly controlled. Furthermore, receiving any kind of designation from the USOC involving the Rings necessarily pertains solely to work related directly to the U.S. Olympic Movement, and does not carry over to other programming.
So when we get the question about the Rings, we, in turn, have to ask our own questions. Is there anything that the Rings allow us to do that we don’t already do in terms of serving U.S. athletes? Not really. We actually do far more work with U.S. runners that we (working at at NAU) ever did as an officially designated USOTS for them. Are there strings attached to having the Rings? Not strings so much as steel cables. You could go so far as to say that an official connection to the Rings through the USOC is more restrictive than helpful in many ways. But won’t the Rings have a positive impact on our ability to raise funds in connection with our servicing of U.S. runners and thus better serve them? Experience has shown the answer to be no. This is because any entity wanting to create an association with the Rings through a sponsorship that helps support athletes affiliated with the USOTS must already be an official U.S. Olympic sponsor. And those sponsors have, at the highest organizational levels, already paid their millions in support and have little incentive to help on a local level to get something they already have.
So then why bother?
Well, I’ll tell you.
In a nutshell, I believe that nothing connotes excellence in sport the way the Olympic Rings do. Nothing. And the Rings represent far more than just the many sports and striving athletes which fall under their umbrella. Olympism carries with it some pretty lofty ideals and associations, and these ideals not only lift athletes to ever greater levels of performance, they tend to lift everyone around them – and in a myriad of ways. The modern Olympics’ founder Pierre de Coubertin thought the Rings, as the visual embodiment of Olympism, had deep significance that transcended sport alone. He saw them as something that meant nothing less than the very union of humanity, brought together under an umbrella that covered the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example, and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
The Rings are not the end-all, and may change little in how we as an organization go about the nuts and bolts of playing host to the world’s best athletes. They have little to do with our questions of increasing resources and raising money and serving better. But I think they have everything to do with something much bigger. I think the Rings are important to the entire northern Arizona community, not “only” as a symbol of our connection to the Olympic Movement and a visual representation of our dedication to sport at the very highest level, but also as an indication of our collective dedication to excellence in all its many forms. They say more in one image about who we are, what we do, and how we do it, than any 100 other images or words combined. It is not a means to an end; it is an end in and of itself.
The Olympic Movement is, at its core, a family of both individuals and entities who all are inspired by the values and ideals of Olympism, along with the belief that sport has the power to unify communities, whether local communities or nations. If given the opportunity to be associated with this movement and all that it stands for, the questions really boil down to just one: what are we waiting for?