Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic Fever

Every couple of years I get to indulge in watching the excitement and spectacle of the Olympic Games. I've loved them -- both summer and winter versions -- as long as I can remember. I really admire athletes who devote so much time and effort to perfecting their skills. Superman of the pool Michael Phelps spends 30 hours a week in training. You can tell each time he steps up to start a race. I'm not sure there's an ounce of fat on that boy's body.

But it's often the stories behind the athletes and their performances that are really inspiring. Stories of parents who sacrifice by living in two different cities so their daughters can train with the best, ones of athletes who've come back from surgeries and painful injuries to compete on the Olympic stage one last time, athletes older than the the Olympic norm determined to show they are still among the best. But while these stories are remarkable, it's often the ones of the athletes from nations who don't enjoy the conditions American athletes do that touch the heart even more.

Last night, I watched as Kirsty Coventry, the gold-medal-winning swimmer from Zimbabwe, talked about how for a brief while her success at the Athens games four years ago helped her countrymen put aside their racial and political differences and celebrate in the streets. The Olympics had barely gotten under way this year when conflict broke out between Russian and Georgian troops. Yet, at the Olympics, athletes from those two countries didn't let the conflict affect their friendships. That's Olympic spirit.

And who can forget Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea, who stole the show at the Sydney games not because of his brilliant performance, but because of the fact that he was there at all. He had only taken up swimming 8 months prior to the games and had never seen an Olympic-size swimming pool before arriving in Sydney. But he got into the Olympics through a wild card program established to encourage athletes in developing nations. Even though his finish time was more than twice that of his competitors and at some points people would wonder if he'd make it at all, his efforts touched the hearts of millions of those watching and earned himself the nickname "Eric the Eel" as a result.

I love, too, how the Olympics show the melting pot quality of America. Take, for instance, the men's gymnastics team competition a few nights ago. The three competitors for Team USA were of Chinese, Russian and Indian descent. And Nastia Liukin, who won the all-around gold last night for the USA, was born in Moscow. Her father had won gold for his home country.

Whether it's the Olympics, writing, or any other endeavor, I really admire those who give it their all to succeed but who don't forget to help others along the way. I'd like to see more of the true Olympic spirit spill out into all aspects of our lives.

So, any other Olympics fans out there? What has been your favorite Olympic moments of the Beijing games so far?


flchen1 said...

OOh, Olympics!

flchen1 said...

We've had fun watching various events--the kids thought the opening event pretty amazing, but did get bored with the seemingly endless parade of nations (they did like seeing how many athletes each country had and so on). They've mostly wanted to watch the ones that don't get much coverage--archery, shooting, and so on. The ones that I enjoy most, like diving or gymnastics, hold much less appeal to them... go figure ;)

Donna MacMeans said...

Darn it, fichen - I saw zero comments and thought I had it (grin).

I've been catching the late night competitions. My favorite was the men's gymnastic team competition that ran a couple nights ago. The two top USA gymnists, the Hamm brothers (both Buckeyes BTW)had to drop out right before Beijing due to injuries. USA had to reach deep into their alternates to field a team. They weren't supposed to medal, yet for a while they were in line for the silver. They ended up winning the bronze - but their enthusiasm and team spirit were marvelous to see and cheer on.

A positive energy and spirit work wonders, I think, in Olympics and in writing.

Gillian Layne said...

Hey, way to go, flchen!:)

We have been watching the Olympics a LOT, and way too late in the evenings! My girls are loving the archery and the volleyball, and I really enjoyed watching those gymnasts.

Terry Odell said...

Wish the "good" stuff wasn't so late for us folks on the east coast.

Has anyone started tracking how many times the commentators use the word, "WOW"?

Hubby told me I couldn't watch any more of the men's diving because of the hard bodies and skimpy suits. Tough.

terrio said...

I love the Olympics. Mostly for the exact reasons you mention. The stories behind the athletes and their journeys to get there are the real draw.

And I've started going hoarse cheering for Michael Phelps. I saw last night that the number of kids wanting to take up swimming is soaring because of him. Kids are saying "I want to be like Michael" and they aren't talking about Jordan.

The opening ceremonies were amazing and it will be a bit of a let down when the games are over.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

FeDORa! You've got him again! :> He loikes it at YOUR house....wink, wink.

Great post! I adore the Olympics. I get misty eyed when the flags are raised, I cry over stories like Eric the Eel and so many others of that ilk. I love watching someone like Phelps who's out there pushingpushingpushing to be better every time, making his own demons scatter before him- and some of ours too - every time he leaps off the block. Fabulous!

Watching the women gymnasts last night - waaaaay past my bedtime, darn it! - was a study in concentration, will and power. I love that Nastia Luikin won the gold, but I have to confess that I was SO rooting for Shawn Johnson. She is the cutest, most determined little thing. Despite the controversy over the Chinese team's ages, watching them compete was a lesson in grace. Beautiful. Did anyone see Bob Costas w/ Bela Corroli? It was so funny to see them show the clip of Bela watching Nastia, it was like he was HER coach, there with her, rooting her on. Fun! :>

Okay, off to watch swimming...

Margay said...

There have been a few moments that simply took my breath away. the opening ceremony was incredible - my favorite part was the bit about the movable type press - and there's always the personal stories that touch you, like that of the flag bearer. but I think the thing that is most riveting to me right now is Michael Phelps. There isn't an adequate adjective out there to describe this guy so I won't even try. Let's just say that I am in awe, not just with him, but with his mother, as well. What a fabulous woman she is!

So far, these Olympics are proving to be quite entertaining and memorable.

Tawny said...

We pretty much only watch the gymnastics (altho the swimming has pulled is in a few times this year). Its awe-inspiring and so hubmling to watch these athletes and realize how hard they've worked and how much time and energy and LIFE they've devoted to their success.

Cassondra said...

I haven't gotten to see one event. *sigh*--oh wait. I was sitting in a restaurant and saw a men's butterfly event. I don't remember which one.

When I was a kid, I WAITED four years for the next Olympics. I wanted to be one of the gymnasts or skaters of course. Back then it happened only once every four years, and winter and summer were held in the same year, different locations.

Telling my age, I watched Mark Spitz win the record number of golds in swimming, and now Phelps has broken that in spades. Very cool.

It's the ones who do great against all odds that are the best stories. Winning the gold is great, but honestly, just BEING there means you're one of the best athletes in the world.

I'm with everyone else. These are humans--PEOPLE--and it's the stories of the people that make the Olympics special.

Isn't that interesting? Same with our books. It's the people in the books that make us care and want to read. It's the people in the events that make us care and cry and keep watching.

Shari C said...

The opening ceremonies were awesome! I have naturally enjoyed watching Michael Phelps go for his 8 gold medals...and he is definitely on track to make it with 6 already. I am also watching Dara Torres, the 41 year old as she is quite an inspiration for those of us who are beyond our 20s and even 30s. I am also a fan of the young women in the gymnastics and it was terrific to see them win gold and silver in the individual competition...Yeah, USA!

Trish Milburn said...

Fedora, I thought the opening ceremonies were amazing too, despite the incident with the poor little girl who was deemed "not cute enough" to be the face of China and had to sing while a cuter girl lip-synced the song. Despite that, it was an amazing spectacle. I wasn't surprised when I found out Zhang Yimou directed it.

limecello said...

I love love love the Olympics. I love the stories about the swimmers who almost drowned as children, and are now Olympians. Or the stories like Eric Moussambani's (I really can't stand the mockery or laughter that sometimes occurs, however. How unkind.) The people like Oksana Chusovitina - or Lopez Lomong. Yes, there are the amazing and incredible athletes - but it's the human interest stories I love.
I also like how, even with all the political turmoil and world issues, the athletes can come together and compete for the love of the game - and make friends with completely unexpected people. Much like Jesse Owens "way back when."

Trish Milburn said...

You are so right about the positive energy and spirit, Donna. I was so excited watching the USA guys beat all the odds.

Another moment that was super exciting was when Jason Lezak anchored the relay team and did such an unbelievable job catching up with and passing France's trash-talking Bernard and giving the US boys the gold. When asked how he did it, Lezak said, "Honestly, I was tired of losing." :)

Trish Milburn said...

Terry, I could so watch even more coverage than I am, but it's been a crazzzzyyy week. It started out with me sick, then my mom is visiting, and I went back to work part-time, plus all the post-conference catch-up. You all might have noticed that the blog was late going up this morning. I totally forgot about it until Kirsten kindly nudged me. I won't repeat what I said then about forgetting. :)

Trish Milburn said...

terrio, that's so cool about kids wanting to take up swimming. Heck, I want to if I could find a really good and patient person to teach me. Yep, I can't swim a lick. Sigh.

I remember when the USA women won gold in soccer, little girls all across the country were coming out to play the game that wasn't natural for this country.

Trish Milburn said...

Jeanne, I saw that clip of Bela. He cracks me up. You know, I'm in the same boat about the Chinese gymnasts. Even if they aren't old enough, they're very talented and they likely have nothing to do with the fact that some fudging may be going on. I was nervous for awhile last night that Nastia and Shawn were going to get the short end of the stick with the scoring. I was afraid there was so much pressure for the Chinese to sweep gymnastics that the slight controversy in the scoring was going to knock out the Americans. But Nastia and Shawn hung on and performed well. I liked Shawn too, but I have to say I think Nastia is more elegant and stylish in her performances. She makes it look effortless.

Trish Milburn said...

Margay, I like Michael's mom too. I liked the interview they did with her about when Bob Bowman, Michael's coach, came to her when Michael was like 12 and said he thought Michael could be an Olympian. Her shock.

And speaking of flag bearers, I thought Yao Ming walking in with the little Chinese boy who'd survived that devastating earthquake and went on to save two of his classmates was so sweet. Heck, I'm tearing up now thinking about it.

Trish Milburn said...

Tawny, the dedication is amazing, isn't it? You have to realllllly want something to go through what some of them have. I see lots of parallels with trying to get published -- getting up at insane hours to write, giving up time doing other things you like or time with friends and family, keeping on even in the face of rejection and failure.

Trish Milburn said...

Cassondra, I remember when the Olympics were every four years. I have to say I much prefer the newer staggered schedule.

Shari, I haven't seen Dara race yet, but I did see the extra piece they did on her coming back and getting into some amazing shape.

Trish Milburn said...

limecello, I so agree with you. It seems like the athletes check the prejudices at the door, if they even have them, something world leaders and Olympic judges (sometimes) should do as well.

Jane said...

Congrats on the GR, Fedora.

I love Michael Phelps. He's cute in a goofy, lovable way. I love it when they get all technical about his body(double jointed knees, size 14 feet/flappers.) The gymnastics teams from China and the U.S. were amazing. They're so tiny, but so powerful. I caught a bit of fencing. It's such a beautiful sport. So is equestrian. Pretty horses. I teared a little when I saw Yao Ming walking with the little boy. The lighting of the torch was pretty spectacular. The opening ceremony was the best one I've ever seen.

Trish Milburn said...

Jane, the torch lighting was amazing, wasn't it? I heard Bob Costas say toward the end of the opening ceremony to just discontinue the (imaginary) trophy for best opening ceremonies because he couldn't imagine anyone doing better.

Helen said...

Well done flchen have fun with him

I love the Olympics as well I love watching the swimming Michael Phelps is doing so well and I am very proud of our own Stephanie Rice who now has 3 gold medals. I totally agree the effort that goes into just getting to an olympics is something they all should be very proud of whether or not they make the finals in their chosen sports.

Here in Australia most of the finals are on around lunch time and I have been at work so I get to see the re runs of races which isn't as exciting as watching it live.

The number of world records that have been broken in the pool is awesome considering that they seem to be getting broken in heats and some only last a matter of 15 mins or so till the next heat.

When the olympics were on in Sydney in 2000 I got tickets for us all and we went to see the soccer and the atmoshere was something that none of us will ever forget we loved it.

Have Fun

Pat Cochran said...

I am always so excited about the Olympics, always have been since I
was younger! And I enjoy all the performances, especially gymnastics
and swimming. I, too, watched as
Mark Spitz left all the swimming
world far behind! Good luck to
Michael on reaching his goal!

Pat Cochran

Keira Soleore said...

Trish, if you start any post with a pictures of Phelps and his muscles, you're guaranteed to have me as a reader of your entire post, while I scan for more Phelps's pictures. :)

Teasing aside, I loved your post about how inspiring the super athletes from countries with truly difficult circumstances are. For them it's not merely the sport and the competitive spirit, it's survival, food, apparel, training space, politics, many things that the sport become a minor line item in the list of important things. And despite it all, they come with pride in their country, pride in their sport, and eager to meet other like-minded individuals.

Fedora, you lucky chicky.

jo robertson said...

Great post, Trish.

The thing I love the most about the Olympics is those stories of courage and determination, of never giving up, but pursuing your dream with everything you've got.

Flchen1, congrats. Isn't this a two-day run for you? Are you going for the GOLD? The Golden Rooster, that is.

Dina said...

I am loving Phelps and his swimming.

I also enjoyed the gymnastics, now if I catch stuff, that's ok.

Trish Milburn said...

Helen, the breaking of all the world records is amazing, isn't it? I was talking with my husband about this last night, and he said it may have something to do with the construction of this particular pool. It's deeper and wider than normal, which helps "clean up" the water and make it easier to swim fast.

That's so cool that you were able to go to the Sydney games. I missed going to the Atlanta ones, but if they're ever anywhere near here again, I'd love to attend an event or two.

Trish Milburn said...

Pat, I've always been a bigger fan of the winter games, but I have to admit that these summer games have been exciting.

Keira, LOL about Phelps. All those muscles aren't hard to look at, are they? :) And you're right -- I think for some of these athletes, how well they do can mean an entirely different type of life for them and their families.

Trish Milburn said...

Jo, I think we might need to launch an investigation to see what is so attractive at Fedora's house that the GR keeps going back? Hmmm...gourmet chook chow, perhaps. :)

Dina, seems appreciation of Phelps is global.

Beth said...

To be honest, I don't watch the Olympics (whispering) I find them sort of...boring (wince)

But I do like reading about the athletes. In today's paper, I read about US swimmer, 41 yr old Dara Torres, and how she's inspiring women in their 30's and 40's to get fit or get back to their fitness routines.

And although I don't watch them ceompete, I do admire all the athletes' dedication and work ethic :-)

flchen1 said...

LOL, Jo! The GR's had the run of the house this morning while I dragged the children to the dentist--fun times! ;)

Now he's back to hiding out again with snacks, the remote, and a flat-screen TV for gold-medal viewing pleasure :)

Trish Milburn said...

Beth, gasp, say it isn't so! Okay, just kidding. I know everyone isn't a sports nut.

Fedora, I'm having visions of the chook sitting back on the couch with a gold medal around his neck. :)

Tori Lennox said...

I love the Olympics!!! I'll watch the weirdest sports that I'd ordinarily avoid like the plague. Like weightlifting. Why? Because it's the Olympics! *g*

Love Michael Phelps but I was soooo happy last night when cutie pie Ryan Lochte won his first individual gold medal.

Heartwarming moments: the little boy who marched in with Yao Ming during the Opening Ceremonies. And the 33 year old German gymnast. And, of course, Dara Torres!

Anna Campbell said...

Trish, great post! Fedora, congratulations on the chook!

Pat, it's funny I was thinking about Mark Spitz today too - I suppose it's all the Michael Phelps stuff. But my swimming teacher when I learnt how NOT to sink had a poster of him up in her office and it was just so inspiring, even for a little girl in primary school in Australia.

Trish Milburn said...

Tori, I was really happy that Ryan won too, especially since I'm going to be rooting for Michael in the race where they go head to head, because of the historic nature of Michael's possibility of winning eight gold.

And I forgot about the gymnast from Germany! That was such a touching story. And she's still very good.

Trish Milburn said...

Anna, I'm not sure about Mark Spitz, but I'm guessing there are going to be lots of Michael Phelps posters going up around the world. :)

Louisa Cornell said...

Alas, La Campbell, this is one chook who never learned NOT to sink. Hence, my non-swimming status to the is day! My two brothers are veritable fish in the water, but I am rather more like a LARGE HEAVY BRICK!!

Hey, Fedora, with a setup like that I'll feather myself, paint myself gold and come to your house! And I happen to know the GR HAS a gold medal ... in charming the ladies!

I'm not watching as much of the Olympics as I would like. My television reception out here in the boonies is NOT good. I LOVE the equestrian events. Always have. That was my Olympic dream - to ride a horse for the USA in show jumping. And I love the fencing, one of the few sports I tried and was actually not too bad at.

Of course the swimming - men's and women's has been phenomenal. I think the athletes KNOW what is important and the Olympics give them the opportunity to teach that lesson to the world. To strive to do one's very best. TO work hard at something you love. To compete fiercely and to win honorably and to above all respect those same attributes in others that you strive for in yourself. It strips accomplishment down to its bare bones. What can YOU do with what God gave you? And if another can do it better, you acknowledge that. You respect it. And you strive for it yourself.

Trish Milburn said...

Louisa, very good points about the athletes knowing what is important. That's why I also love to see the good sportsmanship. Did you all see the wrestler who was upset with this bronze medal and tossed it down on the rink. Very bad example. I didn't watch wrestling, but even if he did deserve to win you just don't act that way.

Caren Crane said...

Fedora, congrats on the chook!

Trish, I love the Olympics, but confess to being more of a winter Olympics fan. Let's hear it for the luge! And curling, now there's a sport!

BUT, my family and I totally turn into armchair experts in every obscure sport in the games. Trap shooting? We know who's hesitating. Uneven parallel bars? We totally critique their landings. Equine events? Fuggedaboutit.

I love every aspect, especially the athlete profiles and stories of tragedies and triumphs of past games. *sigh* What's not to love?

Trish Milburn said...

Caren, in the winter games I love the figure skating and the downhill events.

OMG, what an exciting swimming moment just happened! I won't say more because I know some time zones are getting events tape delayed.

Margay said...

I know, can you believe it! I never saw anything like it! This is shaping up to be one heck of an Olympics.

Trish Milburn said...

Margay, I actually jumped up and yelled. Amazing. And the women's 50m prelims had a cool outcome too.

Margay said...

I was screaming, too! And I was just telling my daughter about the women's race. All I can say is that woman has class.

PJ said...

I never made it here today. I was busy watching the Olympics. :)

Trish, I was screaming too. Unbelievable! The women's 50m semi was great and as for what happened beforehand, Dara Torres is one class act and a beautiful example of sportsmanship.

The interview from Beijing and Detroit that just aired was another highlight for me because I remember the 1972 Olympics very clearly.

Great blog!