Washington, Olympics founded on same ideals

By BOB DOLE | | Published: January 5, 2015

As we await the decision on which city will be the U.S. bid for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, I can only hope that Washington will have the honor. I believe it would be a great choice and also serve as a fitting capstone to the legacy of my generation and the international cooperation we tried so hard to achieve.

In the summer of 1936, I had just turned 13 when a simple act inspired my own generation. Jesse Owens’ path to his remarkable triumphs was made easier with the help of a tall, blond German, Luz Long, who extended the hand of friendship and helped Owens adjust his technique in the long jump. Owens went on to win gold and Long, silver. That truly Olympic moment, setting aside differences during athletic competition, served as a powerful rebuke of Adolf Hitler’s vision of an Aryan Europe.

In 1942, I joined the Army Reserve and was later called to serve, taking my place in the so-called “Greatest Generation.” We did not seek the title but it was assigned as a recognition of responsibilities history would place upon us and the sacrifices we would come to bear in stepping up to unprecedented challenges. Along with many other young men and women like me, I experienced firsthand the horrors and intense pain of war. Following the end of World War II, this group of citizen soldiers from countries around the world, reduced in number, returned home to rebuild towns, hamlets, parishes, nations and eventually the global community.

I had fought in the 10th Mountain Division in Italy along with Olympic athletes and skiers who came back to build the modern ski industry in America. Sports had been central to my life and to my upbringing, not just as an athlete as a young man, and then as a soldier, but later when I would employ the same values in my professional life. Indeed, we often speak of the universal language of sports and its ability to bring people together and inspire. Sports also instill the values — confidence, determination, discipline and teamwork — that helped my generation overcome a threat that rapidly gained momentum following the end of the 1936 Berlin Games.

The Olympics has long adhered to the tradition of the Olympic Truce, the understanding that, throughout the competition, the integrity of athletes and sport in general is paramount, and the concept that for two weeks the fields and arenas of athletic competition take place on neutral soil where all are invited to participate regardless of flag or borders. Above all the truce is about encouraging the pursuit of peaceful and diplomatic solutions to the conflicts that divide nations.

Washington is of course home to the inspiring World War II Memorial, a tribute to a global generation that tore down boundaries. Our Greatest Generation did not end the horror of war for all time, but it has imparted a legacy of diplomacy and peace through strength, the foundation of international cooperation that keeps the world safer today from evils that, unchecked, would eventually engulf it.

As one generation passes the torch to another, by their very presence there will be new Olympic moments that heal, create understanding and unite. While we might hope one day the ideals of the Olympic Truce would stick permanently in our conscience and there would be no need for the wars we have seen since 1936, I believe Washington 2024 is an opportunity to renew the spirit.

I have lived in Washington for 54 years. I have a pretty good grasp for why it would be an outstanding choice for 2024 — capacity to hold the Games, hotels, diverse restaurants, museums, monuments, sites, culture, history and great people. With one of the largest assemblages of embassies in any city in the world, it would be a hospitable host to the international community with a unique energy and landscape poised to inspire the Games.

What’s more, Washington provides an opportunity to demonstrate to the world not only the strength of the free nations — by putting the legacy of peace that is enshrined in the U.S. capital on display — but also to provide an enormous catalyst for the diplomatic relationships that might propel the next generation to even greater heights. Its embodiment of the spirit of international cooperation, fellowship, fairness, honor, equality of opportunity, nondiscrimination, and the pursuit of personal and national excellence make it one of the best possible venues for such a message.

At the Closing Ceremony of each Olympics the call is made to all athletes around the world to gather in four years and once again meet on the field of friendly competition. To borrow from that always poignant and powerful moment, I want to make my own call for political leaders around the world to use the next 10 years of planning for what hopefully will be not only the amazing Washington 2024 Games but a way to make the Olympic Truce and the Olympic spirit a force for peace.

This would be a fitting legacy of the Greatest Generation.

Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was the Republican presidential nominee in 1996 and vice presidential nominee in 1976.

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