There’s a thought-provoking story about kotinos, or the olive wreath, and the Olympic Games. During the ancient Olympic games, winners were not awarded gold, silver, or bronze medals but rather an olive wreath crown.
From A.D. Godlye’s English translation of Herodotus, published by the Harvard University Press in 1920:
There had come to them a few deserters, men of Arcadia, lacking a livelihood and desirous to find some service. Bringing these men into the king’s presence, the Persians inquired of them what the Greeks were doing, there being one who put this question in the name of all. When the Arcadians told them that the Greeks were holding the Olympic festival and viewing sports and horse races, the Persian asked what was the prize offered, for which they contended. They told him of the crown of olive that was given to the victor. Then Tigranes son of Artabanus uttered a most noble saying (but the king deemed him a coward for it); when he heard that the prize was not money but a crown, he could not hold his peace, but cried, “Good heavens, Mardonius, what kind of men are these that you have pitted us against? It is not for money they contend but for glory of achievement!” Such was Tigranes’ saying.
Not for money, but for glory of achievement.
Watching these Olympic Games, I cannot help but to wonder how olive wreathes have turned to precious metal, glory of achievement to winning—or, more troubling, to dominating the medal standings at all costs.
Competition can be healthy, a learning experience…even fun. Canada’s Own the Podium program has admirable qualities—the pursuit of excellence and the relentless drive of our athletes are inspiring to watch.
How to best measure excellence, though? Medals won, personal bests achieved, races run?
We struggle with this question, how to measure excellence, because excellence is in its truest form immeasurable. It can’t be counted in medals awarded, races won, baskets scored. Excellence may be immeasurable, but we know it when we see it.
To Canadian Olympians, to Olympians from around the world: congratulations on your remarkable achievements, not only as competitive athletes, but as world explorers, as sharers of culture, as examples to children, as ambassadors of peace. Remember the olive wreath crown.
Not for money, not for material, nor for measurable victory…but for the glory of achievement. I look forward to watching for your incredible successes in the Olympic days to come!