Laurine van Riessen of the Netherlands may have cycled up a wall to avoid a nasty crash, but the Olympic officials have pulled off an even more impressive stunt to keep their plans upright in Rio this summer. Getting more than 200 countries and a few independent athletes together in one village to compete against each other in an incredibly tense situation where national and personal pride is at stake and billions of pounds have been invested barely sounds possible if you look at the tattered state of international relations outside the stadium doors. But every four years the world gathers to participate in this most uplifting and unlikely of events, producing some glimmer of hope for humanity on the dull horizon. The Olympics time and again warms our cynical hearts and reminds us what we all have in common. Who doesn’t love the awkwardly funny Clair Balding trying to prize something inspirational out of an assortment of athletes that have been forced in front of the camera after a painful two minutes of trying to remember the second verse of the national anthem and not cry on TV? Good news stories are a rare commodity in the modern world, let’s make the most of it. These are my three favorite diplomatic miracles and hopeful moments from the Rio Olympics so far.
Hong Un-jong and Lee Eun-ju from North and South Korea respectively were filmed taking a friendly selfie and having a chat at the gymnastics. The two nations are still officially at war, and relations have been frosty since the creation of the two states. North and South Korea tried to send a joint team to the last two Olympics, and although this has yet to materialize the Olympics represents almost the only positive communication between the two states. It was feared that Hong would be punished for this act of warmth, but it appears that she will actually be rewarded for following the sporting spirit of the North Korean team who are encouraged to publicize their country in this way.
At the London 2012 Olympics Saudi Arabia sent their first women to compete in track athletics. This year, they had their first ever female 100m runner, Kariman Abuljadayel, who competed in the preliminary rounds before being knocked out. Rio marks further expansion in gender equality for a nation that does not let women drive or represent themselves in court without the permission of their husband or father. This may seem like a small step, but Kariman is a role model and heroine to many Saudi women as they slowly inch towards emancipation at home.
Finally, after Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand suffered a nasty fall in the 5,000m, Abbey D’Agostino of the USA sacrificed her own progress in the race to help her up. Abbey had been hoping for a medal but decided that ensuring they both finished the race was more important than trying to salvage her time. Abbey physically pulls Nikki up from the ground and speaks to her giving her the encouragement she needed to finish the race despite clearly being in significant pain. They represent something great about the games: that even in highly competitive teams, where training encourages athletes to win at all costs, compassion will always shine through in the most difficult moments.
Bad news is easy to report. When athletes won’t shake hands or share a bus it can seem as though the Olympics are just a microcosm of the aggressive world outside sport. In among those diplomatic faux pas, however, are some of the most heartwarming news stories that we ever get to read. It may seem like just another sporting event, but the Olympics is becoming one of the increasingly rare moments where people are not reported in partisan or national terms, but simply as individuals completing amazing physical feats. We have only a few more days of relief before it’s all over. Let’s enjoy the good news.