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Fri, May 24

Column: Olympics give us agony, ecstasy...and sportsmanship

I think life would be a lot less thrilling without the thrill of the Olympics. It's delicious fun to watch these athletes do incredible things with their bodies. Gymnasts flying through the air with the greatest of ease, defying gravity, common sense and physics! It is breathtaking to watch. Have you ever stood on top of a skinny little balance beam and attempted a series of forward twists and somersaults? Hmm . . I didn't think so. Is this a sport or suicide? Amazing to watch, impossible to imagine, I doubt that I could even stand up for more than two seconds on one of those beams!

I do love the sport of beach volleyball and those female champions in the bikinis (oops, I mean uniforms) make it look pretty darn easy. Well, running in sand, leaping through the air, jumping at the net, doing one-handed spikes and barely breaking a sweat is not your usual day at the beach. If you are not sure about how perfect your skills are at shooting the ball, you'd better be about how perfect your "uniform" fits. There is no room for error with those skimpy outfits.

London has not been without its controversy. Missing athletes, logistical nightmares, empty seats, odd opening ceremony (except for the Queen's memorable entrance) got the Games off to a wobbly start. But what a finish! British athletes rocked the stadiums and London showed us how to be perfect hosts. But the best parts of the Olympic Games are the athletes and the incredible journeys that brought them to this world stage.

Michael Phelps is a swimming machine! Is he bionic? Not only was he born to swim - perfect body type - he could win a medal for being able to eat 12,000 calories each and every day! And what about Colorado teenager Missy Franklin who will go back to Denver to finish her senior year with two gold medals! Oh, and can you imagine running the last 200 meters of a relay race with a broken leg? And in 46 seconds? Yes, that's what American Manteo Mitchell did in the relay preliminaries. A snap of the fibula couldn't stop him. But it was champion swimmer Ryan Lochte who had to gross us all out by happily admitting, that yes, he pees in the Olympic pool! Hey, that is not how an Olympian is supposed to act!

It was pretty heartbreaking to see a world-class athlete on her way to winning the 100-meter hurdle race when she tripped and knocked over the ninth of ten hurdles. Dropping to her knees in utter despair, she watched with horror as a lifetime of practice and sacrifice were gone and the finalists sailed past her. Losing is part of the sport and crying is not just for girls. When winning is so close, defeat causes more than a few athletes to weep. We may cry with them, but it might not comfort those in throes of agony. Losing hurts.

It's always sad to see lost opportunities and highly trained athletes having bad days on the one day that matters most in their lives. Runners slamming into hurdles, gymnasts falling like bowling pins, volleyball players crashing in mid-air and track stars faltering, reminds us ordinary folks that what these Olympians are trying to achieve is not for the weak at heart. Of course, if these sports were easy, we'd all be doing it.

The tender moments of the Games can also lift our spirits and restore our faith in the real event - people trying to do their best, for the love of the sport, the joy of competing, and the thrill of pushing the envelope to reach a personal best. These are the true "golden" moments. We spectators get to relax at home in front of our televisions and experience the years of rigorous practice in a few minutes of an athlete's performance, marvel in exactly what the human body can be trained to do, wonder what the mind can overcome and feel pride for all those who try so hard.

I recall the last Winter Olympics when the Canadian cross-country skier lost her pole. It was a "mystery man" from the sidelines who handed her a ski- pole, letting her complete the event and win a silver medal. Who was this kind man? He was the cross-country ski coach from Norway. The Norwegian team finished forth, meaning that had he not handed over the pole to the Canadian, his team would certainly have won a bronze medal. Why did he do this? He said, "It was the right thing to do." His team, his country, and the Canadians agreed. We may love the winners, but we love those hearts of gold more than any medal.

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