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Olympics bring out national pride

Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT

Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT

When Nancy Kerrigan showed up on our television screen over winter break, my dad remembered, “We all wanted her to win – because, you know, she’s one of us.”

And she was. Like many of us at the University of Massachusetts, Kerrigan grew up in a suburban town outside of Boston, spent her days driving on I-95 and read the Boston Globe. She might have even made her way into the city now and then to catch a Sox game or take a school field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts. She’d later attend Emmanuel College, a small Catholic college right in the heart of Boston. She was just like us – except that she was an Olympic figure skater.

To see someone succeed, to win some type of glory or fame, is made so much better when you feel as though you are right there with them. Why do we watch anyone compete? It’s not like our lives will be any different depending on who wins or loses; we’ll probably forget about it the next week. But in those moments of anticipation, it seems like to win or lose is, for us, a life or death situation. It means everything. Maybe this was what Stephen Chbosky was trying to express when he wrote his famous quote, “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”

Watching our home country compete in the Olympics brings a huge sense of American pride that we may not express otherwise. It’s not that we didn’t care about our where we came from until we watch someone flying down a ski slope – it’s that we have always cared, but now we have a way to show it, an outlet, a moment.

It’s for the same reason that we watch movies and read books, connecting our own minds to someone else’s experiences. We feel sad when we read about the man getting left at the altar, but to actually live that moment would stir up a different feeling entirely. We can understand, though, and we can learn from others’ experiences and feel for them because we try to imagine it for ourselves. We see ourselves in other people.

So, why do the Olympics evoke so much national pride? Why should we bother rooting for our home country, rather than the best performers? We might even think we could have a better life in another country, that the United States isn’t the best place in the world. But still, we find ourselves glued to the screen, hoping only for another American gold.

Whether we like it or not, we are tied to this place. Nationalism doesn’t mean that you have to agree totally and completely with everything your country does – it means that, like a good friend, you are supportive of its ups and the downs, through the twists and the turns; you’re in the bleachers holding pom-poms every time.

As Tova Mirvis writes in “Our Boston: Writers Celebrate the City They Love,” “To be from somewhere – it didn’t mean that you loved the place, or even liked it; to be from somewhere meant that the city was entrenched into your identity – like family we are born into, not friends we choose on our own.”

In a country that is so large in size, it can be hard to find commonalities, hard to feel like it’s any sort of community. Even though we are called the United States of America, how can you feel united with someone that lives a six hour plane ride away? We only really have the fact that we are all American, united despite our differences.

We have been brought together only by our country of birth, but I think that means more than we realize. Over the years our friends may change, we may try a few different jobs, we may even move to a foreign country. But no matter where we go or what we do or how hard we might even try to escape it, the place we come from is a permanent and irreplaceable part of our identity.

So we root for Kerrigan, and for all of our Olympic athletes. Because, after all, each of them are a part of us.

Katie McKenna is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at kemckenn@umass.edu.

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