The 5 best Olympic speeches speak volumes of the international sporting ceremony's complexities and weirdness. Though they seem like an ingenious and entertaining way to bring the world together, the Olympics have proven more often than not a tool for financial gain, racism, terrorism, and ugly nationalism. With that in mind, here are the five best Olympic speeches.
- Black Power in Mexico. The best Olympic speech ever was without words. In the Mexico games of ’68, African-American sprinters Tommy Smith and John Carlos took the gold and silver medals respectively in the 200-meter dash. Taking the platform for the national anthem, the pair threw up the Black Panther salute, drawing international attention to the Civil Rights struggle and Black Power movement in the US. Said Carlos of the games, “to me the medal was nothing but the carrot on a stick.” By using the Olympics as a platform for the struggle for human rights, Smith and Carlos gave one of the five best Olympic speeches.
- Jim McKay, Munich. Four years after Black Power in Mexico, the ’72 Munich games became a staging ground for global terrorism when the Israeli Olympic team was held hostage by Black September Arab militants. In eulogizing the deceased Israelis, broadcaster Jim McKay gave one of the five great speeches in Olympic history. “They’re all gone,” McKay solemnly intoned, as the situation ended in tragedy.
- Epictetus. Greek philosopher Epictetus eloquently used Olympic training and athletic dedication as a parable for prepping the mind to live a life of pure Stoicism. In a treatise on Stoic philosophy published over 2000 years ago, Epictetus waxed poetic on the Olympics. “And if you are confronted with a hard task or with something pleasant, or with something held in high repute or no repute, remember that the contest is now, and that the Olympic games are now, and that it is no longer possible to delay the match, and that progress is lost and saved as a result of one defeat and even one moment of giving in.”
- Hitler. Hitler’s speech at the ’36 Olympics is a little suspect. “Sporting chivalrous contest helps knit the bonds of peace between nations. Therefore may the Olympic flame never expire.” He also said “The sportive, knightly battle awakens the best human characteristics. It doesn't separate, but unites the combatants in understanding and respect.” Riiight. He proceeded to have African American athletes treated like animals, though they proved the whole Nazi eugenics experiment to be a silly Aryan fantasy, walking away with fourteen gold medals. To further knit bonds of peace, Hitler decided to invade Poland. So why is his speech even on this list? Because it presaged more than a half-century of political pandering and Orwellian spin, using events like the Olympics as international staging grounds for personal, nationalist ambitions.
- Dmitry Medvedev. In anticipation of the 2014 Sochi games, Russian President Medvedev gave an eloquent and humble address to the nation, imploring citizens to live up to the honor of having the Olympic Committee chose them. In a surprisingly sublime moment of humility in an otherwise bombastic field, Medvedev concluded one of the five best Olympic speeches by saying “Once again, despite our progress, we still have much to do. I am sure that everything will turn out well.”