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Thoughts from Dr. Joe:

A time for heroes

August 21, 2008

Like many of us, I have been riveted to the Olympics. The melodramatic cliché of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat the human drama of athletic competition,” is intoxicating. One of my favorite movies is “Chariots of Fire,” a fascinating story of two completely different British runners who compete for the gold at the 1924 Olympics. If you haven’t seen it, see it!

As a kid, I dreamed of being an Olympic athlete but my dreams were quickly shattered by a guy from the projects who knocked me out in the quarter finals of the Golden Gloves. There is something indefinable in the Olympics that springs from the soul. Who hasn’t dreamed of being an Olympic athlete? A chance to be a hero, to be immortal, is basic to the human condition. That’s exactly what drove Achilles.

Are Olympic athletes really heroes? Typically, they are not. However, an example of a heroic Olympian was Jesse Owens. Jesse displayed not only great endurance, but also mental determination and courage in defiantly winning four medals before Hitler at the 1936 Olympic Games.

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I doubt if there is a universal hero because heroics are arbitrary. I’ve known some heroes and none of them wore a gold medal around his neck. Please don’t tell me that Kobe Bryant is a hero…pleeeease. The word hero is used far too freely. All sorts of athletes are called heroes and then two weeks later they’re not.

The word hero comes from the ancient Greeks. For them, a hero was a mortal who had done something so far beyond the normal scope of human experience that they left an immortal memory, and thus received worship like that due the gods. Heroes are extraordinary. Their most significant contribution is to expand our sense of what is possible for a human being. We need heroes because they help define the limits of our aspirations. We define our ideals by the heroes we choose, and our ideals — things like courage, honor, and justice — largely define us.

Is Michael Phelps a hero? Likewise, are Misty May Treanor and Nastia Liukin heroes? They are extraordinary athletes and deserve our adulation, but they are not heroes.

But Lin Hao is.

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