Athletes from throughout the world will gather on Friday night to launch the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Two hundred and six nations have sent more than 11,000 athletes to compete in more than 300 events in 28 different sports. The games could very well generate the largest TV viewing audience of any event in human history.

Along with the traditional Olympic features such as the parade of nations and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron (will it be Brazilian soccer legend, Pelé, doing the honors?), the Opening Ceremony—and indeed, the entire two weeks, will introduce the world to Brazilian customs and culture. We are all hoping that there will be no serious problems or incidents to mar the sheer beauty of the top athletes in the world coming together in peace and sportsmanship. At its best, the Olympics lights up our global community.

As the parade of nations makes its way into Maracanã Stadium, scattered throughout the ranks of the athletes will be the stars of this Olympics—those whose performances will shine the brightest and who will win medals in the various events. They will emerge as the best of the best from a competitive array of extraordinary athletes—each of them a bright light within their respective sports.

The parade on Friday will include those who will entertain us with something they do or say that distinguishes their participation in some way. Unknown to us now, but already within their midst, are those who will reveal the real qualities of their character by how they respond to disappointment, mistakes, bad decisions, and circumstances beyond their control that shape an outcome. And there will be so many who will win our hearts with their sportsmanship, their athleticism, and their passion for Olympic sports.

Edith Wharton wrote, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” The gathering of the Olympic community—and particularly the athletes—certainly demonstrates that this is true. Among 11,000 athletes, by the closing ceremonies a thousand or so will emerge as candles with sparkling medals hung around their necks. However, the overall Olympic experience is not merely watching the winners perform; it is the combined performances of thousands of athletes, and thousands more coaches and trainers and staff who come together with a common purpose to create something extraordinary. It is what happens when all of those people—not just the candles, but also the mirrors—come together with singular purpose, that the Olympic flame burns the brightest.