What Olympians like Chloe Kim teach us about individual and national greatness

Are American snowboarders show-offs? Maybe a little, but then there’s been something going on at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games that is worth noting in an era marked by division and vapid commentary. Athletes from around the planet are demonstrating that real greatness, the kind that is based in excellence and dedication, is not only possible, it is also within our grasp.

We pick on snowboarders for a simple reason: America dominated the sport, and American Chloe Kim became a sensation in these Games. She also turned in a sparkling performance after it was clear she would win gold. In her first run, she scored 93.75, far head of Liu Jiayu of China, the eventual silver-medalist. Rather than take a victory lap on her last run down the halfpipe, Chloe turned in a dangerous but sparkling performance that earned her a score of 98.25.

Her explanation for taking the risk was that she couldn’t imagine taking home the gold “knowing I could have done better.” Regardless of having already secured first place, she sought to achieve excellence. That’s not showboating. It’s leading.

The thing about athletics is that it is a great equalizer. Regardless of your background or your family history, if you can perform faster or with more precision or with a smarter strategy, then you can rise to the top of the world. If you have the heart of a champion, you can compete for gold. But to prove you have that heart, you must ignore the cynics who would have you believe great achievement is either not possible or not worth the sacrifice. To pursue excellence, you often have to first cultivate optimism.

This dynamic is healthy for civil society. In a free system, we can see how far people can go when they have free rein. This inspires us all, and it underscores the fact that in all of life, it is possible to pursue excellence and thereby chase greatness.

And to that end, nations can share in the glow of the collective success of their athletes in the Games. Americans can take special pride in the U.S. medal count (as citizens of any free country can), because those medals were won by athletes who freely chose to take their shots in life. Their success is a reflection of a goodness inherent in the system, a goodness that kindles hope and rewards the courage to stand apart.

At the same time, nations that do not afford their citizens the freedom to chase their dreams can only diminish themselves. Their athletes can win, but the honor the athletes carry is rightly theirs alone. Authoritarian regimes can’t rightly claim authorship of the hope and dreams that lead to individual achievement.

So we’d like to offer three cheers for the champions of these Games for reminding us where greatness comes from.

— The Dallas Morning News