The Olympics are an awesome spectacle. People we don't know carrying a torch we don't care about is not. Photo courtesy Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

Standing in the Temple of Hera, Ino Menegaki fiddles with a mirror. She is a high priestess, and on this particularly sunny day she is tasked with one of the most celebrated duties in ancient Greece. She must invoke the powers of Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, and concentrate the wonders of the deity into a single flame. She uses the mirror to capture and amplify the sunlight until, finally, it ignites.

Raising the torch, she presents it to those around her, a gift from otherworldly beings. Carefully, she descends to Spyros Gianniotis, the nation’s most celebrated swimmer, and re-gifts the fire to an even larger torch. Proudly, Gianniotis parades it out of the Temple of Hera and begins it on its 1,800-mile journey across Greece.

But Spyros Gianniotis isn’t wearing a hand-woven garment and flip flops, he is wearing a moisture-wicking polo with the Olympic Logo on his chest. This is because the year is not 776 B.C., it’s 2012 A.D. In fact, Ino Menegaki, the supposed priestess, is actually an actress. You see, Greece puts on this charade every four years to honor the Olympic Games’ origins. The torch, crafted in a triangular form to honor London’s third time hosting the games, will be paraded around Greece for the next week before it is handed off to organizers of the London Games on May 17.

For the vast majority of us, this tradition celebrating the final countdown to the games goes largely unnoticed. We’ll catch a clip of where the torch currently is as we watch the nightly news or maybe we’ll here an update as we drive in every morning. But, for the most part, we don’t really care.

Let’s face it — the parading of the torch being an intriguing event died about as soon as humans learned of dependable ways to create fire. Today, it’s not a whimsical element that captivates our imagination, it’s a heat source we use to cook dead meat before we clog our arteries.

But there is one thing this tradition does do: it gets us in the mood. Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m not talking about that! No, I’m talking about the way Christmas music fills the airwaves the day after Thanksgiving or how we can’t help but to smile the first time we realize it’s too hot to wear a sweatshirt. The lighting of the Olympic torch reminds us a new season is on its way.

But unlike winter and summer, this season only comes once every four years. And when it’s not here, we barely notice that it’s gone. Like the torch itself, our interest in worldwide athletic competition remains extinguished for the better part of three and a half years. We go on rooting for our home team and jeering our cross-town rival, but it’s in this rare season that we realize those two fan bases are cut from the same cloth.

For one summer every four years, we stop caring about a team from New York or Los Angeles and start caring about a team from the U.S. of A. We pretend, just for a few months, that we actually care about less-celebrated sports like gymnastics and weightlifting. And why do we do this? Because, in THIS season, our NATION is the home team.

The Olympics bring a rare breed of sport into the global spotlight. It doesn’t just bring countries together, it brings the WORLD together. Just for a moment, we stop watching the price of oil and start watching medal counts. We don’t wait for games to come on primetime, we get up at 6 in the morning to watch a track meet we don’t really understand. Superstars like LeBron James and Albert Pujols scoot over and share headlines with Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.

During this season, something strange comes over us. We can’t help but to apply our old sports habits to this world we are unfamiliar with. We pretend like we know the scouting report on a badminton player or the best strategy to employ in a relay race. We carry on like we’ve been following athletes like Yelena Isinbayeva or Stephanie Rice or Bradley Wiggins all our life and not just the past two weeks. And, since everyone in the WORLD is doing the exact same thing, no one is there to call us out on it.

There’s no other way to say it: the Olympics are an awesome time. Not just for the biggest of Sportsheads, but for the casual fan as well. And, as with anything else that excites us so much, we can’t help but to anticipate its arrival.

So while we can live without following someone we don’t know carry a lighted stick we will never see again, we can’t help but to appreciate the feeling it brings with it. Just like it does with the first snowfall or rolling thunderstorm, it’s time for a little smirk to sneak across our faces. The Olympics are almost here, and we know there’s nothing else quite like it in this world.

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