[OUTLOOK]Victory, defeat, opportunityWhat made human beings favorites on the earth is said to be their ability to use symbols. Watching the Athens 2004 Olympic games, we saw symbols living and breathing mythology. We confirmed that being born on the earth as human beings was a wonderful thing.
When athletes wear wreaths made of laurel leaves, they suddenly become victory incarnate or turn into Phoebos, the god of the sun, or Apollo, the god of wisdom in Greek mythology. Could the Athens Olympics, where these amazing symbols come alive, not be a work of a huge epic that mankind writes together? Barely sleeping at night in front of the television, we are shouting for joy, regardless of the late hour, and springing up to watch our athletes compete, keeping us awake early in the morning as in the 2002 World Cup soccer games.
Who can resist the thrilling emotion of watching the first medal hung around the neck of our athletes? Despite earnest prayers for victory, defeat sometimes follows, but in the Olympics it is not thought to be a defeat in its true sense but a reservation of opportunity. As it was in the soccer games that finally gave our team a quarterfinal match after 56 years of Olympics history, there was no game that was without a breathtakingly close fight. That may be why the shout of triumph is so precious.
We are now experiencing moments when our bodies and minds, hurt by the unparalleled heat of this summer, the reality of the world scarred by wars, and choking conflicts between politics and the economy, are changed into fresh power and enthusiasm.
We hold our breath together with our players as they draw their bowstrings, and feel our troubles vanish when our athletes knock their opponents down with a thump. They still have a way to go, but their pride in doing their best, and their hope as well, is carved in their scores.
Competition is bound to exist where human beings live, and so are winners and losers. Human beings always dedicate their eager hearts to the simple crossroads of winning and losing. Those games unfolding under the sunlight of the Aegean Sea are fragrant and beautiful because there is fairness and openness in the competition. Seeing fairness and openness that makes the joy of the winners valuable and makes losers embrace winners openly was another delight.
The Olympics reminds me of the barefoot runner Abebe Bikila. An athlete from the African interior, he won the marathon barefoot at the 17th Olympics in Rome, making his homeland Ethiopia known to the world. His people were pleased, saying that with his bare feet, he cleared his country of the disgrace of having been occupied for 25 years by Mussolini’s Italian army.
I wish the victories of our athletes, who compete under the sunlight of Aegean Sea, could cleanly wash away the news about our harsh politics, which is busy digging up past wounds, and news about an economy on the brink of falling.
I cannot forget the sudden surge of emotion I felt when South and North Korean players appeared, hand in hand, at the opening ceremony for the Olympics, as if characters in mythology were incarnated under the sun, transcending thousands of years. It is significant indeed that what human beings must do to have a branch of the laurel tree of victory on their forehead is only to practice.
I already begin to wonder what fun I can have when the Olympic games are over. But then the cool fall will be at hand. For those who worked in sweat beginning in the spring, golden harvest will be waiting like medals. Even if we missed a medal this time, we can also be happy because another opportunity is waiting for us.
But the god of opportunity is said to have hair only on the front and is bald on the back of his head. It is said that this means one must grasp an opportunity at once when it comes. Would it be too hasty if I suggest that we take this opportunity to turn the vitality and viability brought by our athletes fighting a good fight in Athens toward the politics and economy of our land?
* The writer is a novelist. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Moon Jung-hee