The 2008 Olympics

I’ve always been a fan of the Olympics. I could remember watching the Olympics in 1992, when I followed Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and the rest of the Dream Team squad crush all their opponents in rout to their gold medal in Barcelona. That followed with Atlanta in 1996 (and the Olympic bombing tragedy), Sydney in 2000, and Athens in 2004.

The Olympics is a special event. Every four years, the world gets an amazing opportunity to see all its’ best athletes gather together in one city to compete in various events. It isn’t all about who wins or how many they win (usually is though), but the stories that each athlete brings to these events. How they may have had to endure through various struggles from their past to get to where they are today. Or how they overcame obstacles, physical or emotional, to persereve and succeed. It’s amazing to hear the stories that the broadcasts bring in with their coverage. And then there are the controversies and the suprises as well.

For me, these were the stories that really came out from these Olympics (in no particular order)…

Michael Phelps and his eight gold medals… Maybe it was luck. Maybe it was a bit of skill. I don’t know. Two events could have prevented him from beating Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals, yet somehow, him and his teammates managed to beat the odds to do so. Why was the record of seven gold medals in one Olympics so difficult? Imagine having to work out, swim in one heat, finish that, prepare for another heat 45 minutes later, then another one after that, workout still, have time to eat, and then go to bed, and start all over again? For seven days straight? It’s amazing how he managed to do that. His coach prepared him for it though and the formula worked. Eight medals… All gold for now the world’s newest golden boy… And remember this. He’s only 23.

Gymnastics… I have to admit that I’m usually not a fan of gymnastics. While its beauty and artistry are impressive, it can get rather boring to watch over and over again. However, I think this time around, I managed to actually have some respect. Watching the men’s events, it’s impressive how strong and tough they are. Watch the parallel bars or the still rings and you can see what I mean. Try doing those moves. But like every Olympics, there is some kind of controversy. This time, it was the age of some of the athletes. Whether the Chinese chose athletes too young or not remains to be determine, but think for a second… 16 year old… 68 pounds. Is that right? In any case, Liukin follows the footsteps of her parents and wins the all-around title… and somehow, the U.S. men managed to get a bronze medal.

The beast known as Usain Bolt… While Phelps dominated the water, Usain Bolt did that on land. It wasn’t so much the fact that he won three gold medals or beat them all in world record time. It’s how badly he did so. Watching the first heat of the 100 meters, I knew that guy was going to be hard to beat. When you have a 6’5″ sprinting and beating people while jogging, how do you expect to beat him while he’s at full speed and effort? That was what the 200 meters showed. When he put out a full effort, there was no chance that anyone could beat him. The second closest competitor was at least 0.50 seconds behind him (that’s a huge gap in sprinting). His gigantic size and stride will make him dominant in future major events for many years to come for this 22 year old runner.

The U.S. dethroned from their title as “World’s Best Sprinters”… One of the big reasons why the U.S. dominate in the medal counts is their amazing performances in the sprints in track and field… However, this Olympics was not the case. Instead, the Jamaicans took the spotlight, dominating those events easily, as the U.S. teams faltered big time when it mattered. Could it have been the jitters? Was it because they couldn’t handle the pressure? Or was it the lack of drugs… I mean…

The murder in Beijing and the men’s volleyball team winning gold… The first official day of the Olympics was marred by tragedy. The men’s volleyball coach’s father-in-law was murdered by a madman, who later committed suicide. He left to be with his mourning wife and family-in-law. As he mourned, the team had to do their best without him. And they did. They proceded to win match after match, overcoming some of the best teams in the world. It eventually lead them to the gold-medal match against the defending gold medal champions and number one team in the world: Brazil. As their coach returned to help lead them, they struggled early, losing the first set. But after getting rid of their jitters, they started to regain their composure. In turn, they started making shots and mounted a comeback. One set… Two sets… Match. Gold medals. While tragedy overcame the team in the beginning, the team managed to stay strong and win one for their emotional coach.

Lopez Lomong… This was definitely an amazing story to hear. While he did not manage to medal, it was how he even got there that was amazing. He was originally from Sudan and was separated from his family when he was six. Spent 10 years at a refugee camp in Kenya, living off one meal a day. In 2000, he walked five miles just to watch the Sydney Olympics and eventually wanted to be on the big stage someday. Eventually he did as he got into the U.S. and became a citizen. And as the U.S. poured into the Bird’s Nest stadium, there was Lomong in the front of the group, carrying the U.S. flag proudly.

Chinese and their attraction to gold… While I don’t agree with their training techniques (basically training from the toddler years), it has contributed heavily to their success on the podium. And not just on the podium, but at the top of it. They’ve got 51 gold medals to the U.S.’ 36. That’s a huge margin. But maybe that has to do with some other factors as well, like U.S. somehow dropping their batons in both men’s and women’s 4×100 meter relays.

Lin Dan, Angel Matos, Usain Bolt and several other athletes… Bolt comes up again, along with Lin Dan and Matos. Why? I think if they were to have a competition for unsportsmanlike conduct, it would go to one of those three for sure. Probably others that I can’t think off the top of my head. Lin Dan and his over-the-top display after winning gold (throwing his shoes into the stands?), Angel Matos for kicking a referee after being disqualified in taekwondo, and Usian Bolt for his display in the last fifteen meters in the 100 meter dash. Which one would you choose? I would say probably Lin for gold in lack of sportsmanship because his lasted at least a few minutes.

The U.S. Basketball team winning gold… The Redeem Team stood by its name, winning the gold medal against the Spaniards, in a fairly close championship game. To see the gold medals and title of Olympic champions under the U.S. name again was quite relieving. Coach K’s coaching and Jerry Colangelo’s design were heavily the reason for their success. They found a winning formula that worked great and saw them play unselfish basketball (for the most part… the championship game wasn’t so much that).

Russia and Georgia playing each other in beach volleyball… The Olympic Games were slightly overshadowed by the fighting going on between Russia and Georgia. War broke out and that became the focus, despite the fact that the Olympic Games usually signals to all nations to set aside their arms for the two weeks to cherish the gathering of athletes and nations across the world. Then came the match-up between Georgia and Russia in women’s beach volleyball. Rather than competing on a battlefield, they competed on sand… across a net. And in the end, politics and bloodshed were not the focus of this match. It was sportsmanship, friendship, and unity. It showed how much sport conquers above war.

There were a lot of other stories throughout the games. The Chinese woman’s marathoner that overcame career-ending surgery to her long distance track and field career to compete in the marathon and complete it… The ending of Olympic careers for Laura Wilkinson (diving), Lisa Leslie (women’s basketball), and others… The end of baseball and softball as events in the Olympics… How Beijing managed to spare themselves in light of the issues with smog, their politics, and other issues…

So many more, but the fact of the matter is that the Olympics are finally coming to a close. The ceremonies will likely have been completed by the time I finish this post and the torch will be passed onto London as they host the 2012 Olympic Games. One thing is for sure: Just like all the other Olympic games, these games will be ones to remember for people all over the world.

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