Verbum Ultimum: A Green Olympics

Students should support fellow Olympians while building community.


Last Friday, 15 current and former Dartmouth athletes and two head coaches marched in the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang, South Korea. Undergraduates Tricia Mangan ’19 and Alice Merryweather ’21 were added to the U.S. Alpine ski team just days before the official start of the games, while Paralympian Staci Mannella ’18 is scheduled to compete in March. In total, 18 Dartmouth representatives will participate in the Olympics this year, the most in a single Games in College history. This is an exciting time for the Dartmouth community, but it is also an opportunity to embody the spirit and values of the games while fostering a more welcoming atmosphere as a campus. 

Winter is especially meaningful at Dartmouth. The community’s attachment to the season goes beyond idyllic images of the campus enveloped in snow. Winter Carnival symbolizes the community’s energy, talent and commitment to its traditions. Even the frigid air, few hours of sunlight and seasonal affective disorder may lead students to bond with peers. The collective struggle of surviving a Hanover winter can have the unexpected benefit of bringing people together.

This year’s Winter Olympic Games are at first sight a show of unity. North and South Korean athletes marched under the same flag in the opening ceremony — the two countries have not done so at any Olympic games in the last 12 years. In an unprecedented move, the countries also fielded a joint women’s hockey team. This spirit of collaboration set a tone of unity, which our community can learn to embody more fully. However, appreciating the Olympic spirit and supporting Dartmouth athletes must occur with the acknowledgment that neither Dartmouth nor the Olympics are without fault. Both inadvertently benefit those born with certain privileges. Both preserve potentially harmful power dynamics. And both can benefit from becoming more diverse, inclusive and supportive.

The impact of climate change on the future of winter Olympics may also be devastating, and Dartmouth may soon feel its impact. A team of researchers led by Daniel Scott, a geography professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, found that by midcentury, nine of 21 former Winter Olympic host cities may not be reliably cold enough to sustain the games. Their model factors in the ability to produce snow artificially, but that option is far from a satisfactory solution. Climate change would also reduce the number of locations where and the time during which winter athletes can train. Scott’s team predicts that some ski locations in the United States could “see seasons 50 percent shorter by 2050 and 80 percent shorter by 2090.” All aspiring Olympic athletes could face substantial obstacles in the future — but those who lack the resources to move to colder cities or travel frequently because their local hills and ponds are no longer suitable will face the worst repercussions. Students’ appreciation and love for winter sports thus ought to serve as the foundation for a stronger commitment to protect opportunities for future generations.

The Dartmouth community has much to be grateful for, and at its Olympics athletes will be recognized for their talents. Yet students should also be mindful and supportive toward peers whose Olympic dreams did not come true, despite comparable hard work and talent, and toward those who might have lacked the financial resources or community support to pursue those dreams from the start. Re-examining how both the Dartmouth community and the Olympic pipeline fall short is imperative to creating a better, more caring and more enabling campus culture.

When thinking about the future of the environment and the existence of these activities in the next few decades, students can also pledge to do more on both an individual and campus level. Efforts to reduce Dartmouth’s carbon footprint are critical in the fight to ensure future aspiring Olympians are able to pursue their dreams.

The 2018 Olympic Games are a moment of pride for Dartmouth. That moment can also extend to a deeper reflection on privilege and responsibility. Students can support Dartmouth Olympians by watching their performances, sending messages of support and contributing to visible displays of encouragement on campus. But those actions should extend to a long-term promise to future generations. The solidarity and spirit of the Olympics can bring the campus together — especially if students choose to capitalize on it.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the associate opinion editor, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.