Archive for Thursday, August 19, 2004

Opinion: Cheers to Athens

August 19, 2004

The Olympics are home.

Nearly 2,000 years after the games of the first Olympiad, the Summer Olympics returned to Athens, Greece -- the place where it all began.

I've always respected and appreciated the Olympics, but in recent years it seems things such as March Madness or the NBA Finals have commanded my attention much more than the Olympics. This year, however, that has not been true. I've watched, I've rooted, I've laughed and I've marveled at the Games, the athletes and the ups and downs that come around every four years.

During my life, I've witnessed four or five summer Olympic Games that I can remember. Never have I been more impressed by the spectacle than this year in Athens.

Each night this week, I've been glued to my couch and my television until NBC's coverage went off the air at 11 p.m.

It's been exciting, exhilarating and incredible.

Never before have I been so captivated by swimming, gymnastics and other non-mainstream sports. Heck, those sports almost made me forget all about Team USA's struggles on the basketball court. Almost.

Tuesday, as I watched the finals of the women's gymnastics competition, along with a handful of medal races in the pool, I decided to use my column this week to point out some of the more exciting moments from the Athens Olympics thus far.

At the top of my list is not a single triumph or a team title. Instead it's the way the U.S. competitors have focused their sights on the gold medal and nothing else. I don't care what the event was, if the Americans didn't win gold, it almost seemed as if they were disappointed. I can't tell you how many times I watched one team celebrate gold and another jump for joy over the bronze while the Americans sat in the middle disappointed with silver.

A classic example came Tuesday when the women's gymnastics team scratched and clawed its way to a silver medal but seemed genuinely upset, while the Romanians and Russians shed tears over winning gold and bronze.

Ultimately, after it all sank in, the Americans came around. One gymnast, Carly Patterson, summed it up best when she said, "We're at the Olympics, and we have a silver medal around our necks. It's awesome."

I don't think the disappointment with silver or bronze makes the Americans snobs, and I'm awfully proud of their determination to strive to be the best. It's inspiring. But it's also nice to see the smiles on their faces after the events no matter what color the medals around their necks are.

As it always does, the United States has enjoyed tremendous success this year, and more is sure to come. Entering Wednesday's competitions the U.S. was first in the overall medal count. But what has blown my mind more than anything has been how impressed I've been by the success of other countries and their athletes.

Perhaps it's because the world we live in is now connected by the push of a button. Or maybe I've been a little more sensitive to a feel-good, worldly story because of the unstable state of so many nations. But watching this year's Olympics has been an experience I won't soon forget. Competitors who can't speak the same language and even seem to smile in a different dialect have come together in harmony and competed against each other with respect and integrity.

The leaders of these countries, including our own, could learn a lot from the athletes who pour their hearts and souls into their sport for their countries. Although it doesn't occur all that often, this year's Olympic Games is truly an example of how sports can make the world a better place.

I'm definitely glad we get to watch these games through the end of the month.

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