Comment: Athletes are changing Olympics’ soft-power politics

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By Paul Musgrave / Special To The Washington Post

The modern Olympics movement enshrines a paradox: It promotes competition among nations as a means toward international peace. The explicit idea behind the 1896 revival of the ancient Greek tradition of quadrennial games was to replace war with other forms of international rivalry. It never succeeded by that measure; the 1916, 1940 and 1944 Games were canceled on account of world wars, for instance, while the 1972 Olympics witnessed the killing of members of the Israeli team.

But the idea that international competition can be channeled through athletic prowess continues to resonate, thanks to the simple, if naive, intuition that a country can prove its worth by winning medals; an easily quantifiable metric of national achievement. This is the premise that inspires less-prominent nations to celebrate when they win a single medal, even in a minor sport. But it also leaves Americans anxious if our…

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