Sunday, August 24, 2008

Passing the Torch To London

We all wondered what the organizers of the Beijing Games would do after providing us with a breathtaking opening ceremony for the ages.

Well, as we expected, they finished off these Games in spectacular fashion. After 16 days of thrills, chills, heartbreak, drama and the athletes from 204 nations living up to the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger) The Games of the 28th Olympiad in Beijing came to a close. The host nation cleaned up in the gold medal count with 51 medals and 100 medals overall. It was the most gold medals collected by any nation since the old Soviet Union cleaned up in 1988. Team USA is taking home 38 gold medals and 110 medals overall, the most we've piled up at a non US hosted Games.

It was also cool to note that 78 countries won medals, so it wasn't all concentrated among the sports superpowers.

The standout athletes who will forever be synonymous with these games are Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps. Usain Bolt not only solidified his claim as the world's fastest man, he did so with record breaking ease. Michael Phelps record eight medals include one memorable relay race and outtouching Bernard Cavic by a fingernail.

Bolt, Phelps and images of the Water Cube and the Bird's Nest Stadium will be the signature Olympic moments and images for for this generation just as watching Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis, Nadia Comaneci, Olga Korbut, the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team, the 1992 Dream Team and Florence Griffith Joyner was for mine.

The performances at these Games will serve as an inspiration for kids and the adults that were glued to the television. You have no excuse for not getting in shape when you see a 41 year old mom and former Olympian come out of retirement to earn a silver medal or a 33 year old German competitor executing a vault while competing against people that are old enough to be her daughter.

Hopefully one of those kids who was inspired to become an Olympian in a future Games was a transgender one. I pray that I'm granted enough time on Planet Earth to see that transgender athlete, wherever they are from receive that medal.

The reasons I love the Olympics are multifaceted ones. Yeah, I'm a sports fan who loves to see my country do well in any international competition, as I documented with the various Olympic posts. But the Olympics aren't just any sports competition. It's special. It's summed up in the motto of these Beijing Games, One World One Dream.

The one dream that any kid who plays a sport shares no matter where they grew up on this planet is to stand on the top step of the Olympic podium with a gold medal around your neck. You've just executed the best sporting performance of your life against top flight competition and you're hearing your country's national anthem played as you see your nation's flag raised to the rafters of an arena or the top of a flagpole.

But the beauty of the Olympics is that for two weeks, all 6 billion of us on Planet Earth forget about the usual rivalries, national borders, political drama and even our own problems to cheer for the youth (and sometimes people like 41 year old Dara Torres) of the world competing at the highest levels for Olympic immortality.

And sometimes, as you get reminded, it's not always about winning a medal. Sometimes it's just being there to compete. You also see that no matter how hard you've trained for that moment, one mistake can cost you a medal.

The Olympics are a microcosm of life. It's not about how you fare when you're on top, but how quickly you bounce back from adversity. Sometimes your best efforts aren't good enough to get you the big prize on that particular day, so it will interesting to watch and see if the folks that failed to medal here in Beijing show up in London and stand on the medal platform four years from now.

So the torch has been extinguished at the top of the Bird's Nest, the Antwerp Olympic flag has been passed to the mayor of London and we wait until 2012 for the start of the Games of the 30th Olympiad. Our British cousins are plugging away as I write this building the venues and making plans for their own turn on the Olympic stage.

Beijing raised the bar in terms of hosting a Games, but I have no doubts that our British friends will rise to the occasion and put their own unique stamp on Olympic history.

They already have a head start on making history. They will become the first city to host the Olympics three times when the Olympic torch gets lit there on August 29, 2012. London also hosted the Games in 1908 and 1948.

There are four cities who will be anxiously awaiting an October 2009 IOC meeting in Copenhagen that will determine who will be the mayor receiving the Antwerp flag from the mayor of London when they have the closing ceremonies of those 30th Games.

But take heart Olympic fans, the Winter Games in Vancouver are only two years away.


VĂ©ronique said...

Only a year and a half, really!

It's going to be interesting to see what it's like to live through an Olympic fortnight.

Monica Roberts said...

I had friends who were living in Atlanta during the 1996 Games.

They described it as a wonderfully magical time.