A good reason to be a fan

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By Stephen Lega

This year, we will again have the chance to witness a spectacle of human ability and achievement. It is equally a celebration of commitment and talent. The participants only have this opportunity once every four years, which adds to its significance.
Obviously, I'm not referring to the Presidential election. Instead, in a little over a month, the 2012 Olympic Summer Games will begin in London, England.
Admittedly, I don't pay much attention to many of the Olympic sports until they roll around. I couldn't name one professional archer or rower. I might be able to come up with the name of a few swimmers or track and field athletes if you give me enough time.
Nevertheless, these are world-class athletes, and there is something special about seeing world-class athletes competing against one another.
Regardless of our unfamiliarity with many of these athletes, the Olympics always seem to generate its own excitement. People older than myself may remember when Bruce Jenner was competing in the decathlon. (No comment about what he's known for today.)
When I was growing up, Carl Lewis (arguably the United States' greatest Olympian) dominated track and field for several games.
In 2008, Michael Phelps surpassed Mark Spitz by winning eight swimming medals in one Olympic games.
Whether it's basketball, fencing, soccer or wrestling, we can find inspiration in athletes from more than 200 countries who are scheduled to compete in London.
Why do the Olympics fascinate us? Maybe it's because the Olympics are one of the few instances when the ideals of fairness and equality are actually on display. I realize even the Olympics has had its own scandals over the years, but unlike some other sports (baseball and cycling come to mind), the Olympics at least seems to be serious in its efforts to disqualify athletes caught using performance enhancing substances.
Maybe I'm deluding myself, but the Olympics are one of the times when people seem to be genuinely competing on level playing fields, so to speak.
Who are the fastest man and woman in the world? Let's line them up and have them race.
Who are the strongest people in the world? Let's let them lift weights until one person lifts more than anyone else can.
Who is the best table tennis player in the world? Let's play.
The Olympics have also proven that wealth isn't the only thing that matters in competition. This year is the 20th anniversary of the "Dream Team", the first U.S. team of mostly professionals to "compete" in the Olympics. The games were laughable as the U.S. crushed their opponents.
Since then, the rest of the world has caught up. The U.S. still sends teams of professionals, but that is no longer an assurance of a medal, much less a first-place finish.
Certainly, we will cheer for our fellow Americans, but we also admire athletes from other countries. We appreciate hard work and heart.
The Olympics may not be the most important thing we do as human beings, but there is something remarkable about the Olympic spirit. For a few weeks, most of the world seems to be able to set aside their divisions in a sense of fair play.
And it's that sense that we aspire to achieve in other areas of our lives, even if we sometimes fail to meet that ideal.