I watch the Olympics, winter and summer, with my bullshit detector turned off. That's to say, I embrace the IOC's evident wish that we, the viewers, see each Olympiad the way they, the organizers, hope we will — as a spirited, amicable competition where the medal-count is far less important than the fellowship that bonds athletes, spectators, yadda yadda.
Of course, none of this means that I sit quietly — nodding, smiling, gazing through mist-rimmed eyes — as the Games unfold. I yell at the TV, root for my fellow Americans (mostly) and revel in the deep, national rivalries that have ripened like so many fat, toxic grapes across the decades. But I really do get a special kick out of those moments that seem to epitomize the "Olympic spirit," like this picture of an obviously delighted American skier, Jean Saubert, getting lovingly sandwiched by gold and silver medalists — and sisters — Christine and Marielle Goitschel at Innsbruck in 1964.
I suppose it's possible that, because Olympic athletes are expected to act sportsmanlike — or sportswomanlike, or whatever — they're more likely to actually behave that way. And so what? Humans are often civil toward one another not because they're innately goodhearted, but because they find themselves on-stage in an atmosphere where acting like an unprincipled, win-at-all-costs ass-bowl is simply not an option.
So let the Games begin — and may the only hyper-competitive bad blood we witness come into play on the curling ice, where it belongs.
Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com. Picture This is his weekly (and occasionally more frequent) feature for The Stacks.
Photo Credit: Crane—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images