The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games included twenty-eight different sports and over three hundred different events split up between those 28 sports. And while some sports, such as soccer, b asketball, and tennis feature popular athletes we see in commercials and advertisement and generates enough interest in the nation for television networks to develop massive amounts of time and money to their games, the majority of these sports that we watch goes unwatched and ignored for the other three years and 11 months at a time. Even the Great Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, who both have shown once again that we should throw out Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller’s Aquaman and Flash characters in the upcoming Justice League Movie and cast Phelps and Bolt as replacements, go relevantly unnoticed in their sports outside the of Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio. And with all that being said, I was still with hundreds of students in the Cone Ballroom Saturday night cheering on a person I haven’t met to win in a sport that I don’t watch.
When Paul Chelimo first attended this university in 2011, I wasn’t even a junior in high school, let alone being a junior in college. By the time I enrolled, Paul had gone to much greener pastures. When it was announced earlier this summer that Paul will be the first Olympian from UNCG, social media was flooded with UNCG content cheering him on. The whole summer was leading up to Saturday night’s 5000 metres and the viewing party in the Cone Ballroom.
With the Ballroom filled easily with a few hundred people, many of which were waving American Flags and cheering on some of the other competitions going on before and during Chelimo’s race, I was just a fly on the wall watching people’s reaction to the games. A campus that has been more known for its interest in arts than in athletics had all come out to watch track and field. Cone gets filled up for Super Bowl Sunday because the game has become the sports equivalent of Christmas; even if you don’t follow the sport and origins, you still celebrate it. But to watch the Olympics Games without Phelps, Bolt, or the US Gymnastics team, it was a reminder of the power of sports and the effect the Olympics can have on people.
Before the 5000 metres began, people were cheering for the women’s 4×100 metres race and the women’s high jump. No matter the country (though of course, people were cheering especially loud for the US women’s gold medal victory and medal presentation in the 4×100 metres), people cheered. Ruth Beitia of Spain, a name you probably have never heard of and likely will forget, was given a loud cheer for clearing the bar in her high jump attempt. And when 8:30 came around and all the men’s 5000m runners came out that tunnel, Cone erupted.
The race itself, like most races not including Usain Bolt, was a highly competitive one. At some points Chelimo was in second and at some points he was as low as fifth and sixth. At one point, the person I was standing next to asked me after four laps and 2000m if this was the final lap. Though I told him it wasn’t halfway done, I don’t think it registered until he saw on the bottom left hand corner of the screen the words “5000m.” His audible groan told me all I needed to know. I reminded him that it was a long race and that by the final lap, you see just a full sprint instead of the fast jog the runners were doing.
My ears are still ringing from how loud Cone was when Paul, in fifth by the beginning of the final lap, started an all out final push to move him at one point neck-to-neck with 2012 gold medalist Mohamed Farah of Great Britain. However, Farah never relinquished first and took home his second gold of Rio, leaving the 25 year old Paul Kipkenoi Chelimo the silver medal.
As people left to move on with their Saturdays or stay to watch Melissa McCarthy as a bakesale Gordon Geico, for an hour and a half, sports bought a liberal arts college campus together to cheer on an alumni and a country.