Rich Tucker

Finally, there’s the question of GDP. It’s obviously unfair to expect poor Jamaican sprinters to line up against richer American or Canadian runners who enjoy more expensive training techniques.

To be fair to runners from poorer nations, we should do something similar and shave seconds off their times. If a sprinter from Jamaica crossed the finish line in, say 9.69 seconds, we’d mark it down as 9.5 seconds. Fairness abounds!

Enough silliness.

According to the ratings firm Nielsen, “4.7 billion viewers -- or 70 percent of the world’s population -- tuned in to watch the [2008] Games.” That was up from 3.9 billion in 2004 Athens Games and 3.6 billion in 2000. And there’s a reason that the Olympics are so popular around the globe: It’s because they’re based entirely on merit. The best man (or woman) wins, regardless of creed, color or economic circumstance.

Yes, some countries tend to focus on particular events while others attempt to compete across-the-board. Thus Africans have come to dominate distance running, Asians dominate badminton and Americans vie for medals in most sports and consider ourselves unsuccessful if we don’t bring back the largest number of medals. But this is a reminder of the value of competition.

As Matthew Spalding noted in his book We Still Hold These Truths, “The essence of liberty is the freedom to develop one’s talents, pursue opportunity, and generally take responsibility for one’s own life and well-being.” That’s exactly what occurs in hundreds of countries as athletes prepare for the Olympics, and it’s what viewers see in the Olympic stadium when those athletes vie for medals.

And yes, luck plays a hand, as it always does in sporting events. Some stars are injured. Others wash out during the trials. Other story lines never develop.

In a world where it seems that every child gets a medal for simply competing, it’s refreshing to see a true meritocracy. In the Olympics, only the very best are rewarded. That’s why they matter, and that’s why we watch.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for