Tuesday, August 7, 2012

These Olympics have been stunning, full of emotion, digital, even conversational, too!


For the love of sport / Winning an Olympic gold medal
is what every athlete strives to achieve.

The late, great Czech long-distance runner Emil Zátopek, who won three gold medals in the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympic Games, once offered some astute advice to would-be Olympians: "If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon."

In the Helsinki Games, Zátopek won the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and the marathon. Zátopek's final medal (he also won a gold and a silver medal in the 1948 London Games) came when he decided at the last minute to compete in his very first marathon. He broke the existing Olympic record in winning each of the three events.

Zátopek's strategy for the marathon was simple, wrote Simon Burnton in the London Guardian newspaper: "He raced alongside Jim Peters, the British world-record holder. After a punishing first 15 kilometers in which Peters knew he had overtaxed himself, Zátopek asked the Englishman what he thought of the race thus far. The astonished Peters told the Czech that the pace was 'too slow', in an attempt to slip up Zátopek, at which point Zátopek simply accelerated. Peters never finished; Zátopek ran an Olymic record race."

Zátopek's triple gold medal hat trick from 60 years ago was merely ranked No. 41 among 50 stunning Olympic moments by the Guardian earlier this year.

Usain Bolt / World's Fastest Human ~ again.

During the first 11 days of this year's London Summer Games, there's been many stunning and memorable moments involving the world's most outstanding athletes: Think American swimmer Michael Phelps, who broke a 48-year-old Olympic record for most total medals. We've been witness to supreme excellence and raw emotions: Think Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who claimed the title of world's fastest human for the second consecutive Summer Olympics, then put on a theatrical performance in celebrating his victory that would be the envy of West End theatre. And, certainly, there's been much for host nation Great Britain to be jolly about, too: Think Andy Murray winning the men's singles gold on the famed Wimbledon grass tennis courts.

In a perfect world, NBC, my country's Olympics television broadcaster, would show all of the marquee events like swimming, gymnastics and track and field ~ called athletics throughout much of the rest of the world ~ live, coast-to-coast in all time zones. Instead, NBC monopolizes these events for dramatic, prime-time viewing, packaged on tape, and shown hours after they took place. Often, many big events, like the men's 100 meter dash, aired here in the U.S. after 11 p.m., much too late for many to stay up to watch.

Michael Phelps / The greatest Olympian of them all.

Instead, I've found a reliable internet connection for the BBC, and last week, I delighted in watching all of the swimming finals live during the middle of the day on my MacBook Pro laptop. In doing so, I gained a different perspective about American Olympians like Phelps and Missy Franklin, who reigned in the pool, and the 16-year-old American gymnast Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around gold medal after she helped the U.S. win the team gold medal.

In addition, I came to learn the personal stories of many wonderful and charismatic British athletes competing for Team GB, like Jessica Ennis (gold medal winner in the heptathlon), Mo Farah (gold medal winner in the men's 10,000 meters) and Sir Chris Hoy, who Tuesday night became the most decorated British Olympian when he won his sixth gold medal in track cycling. Their fetes were brilliantly described by a hardy group of BBC presenters, correspondents and commentators. I found myself rooting for Team GB from across the pond, wanting to see these likable athletes do well and win gold.

American gymnast Gabby Douglas
won the individual all-around title.
Also, I've relied on reading the wonderful and descriptive stories, and thrilled to the dramatic and colorful photography and detailed graphics each day in my home-delivered copy of the New York Times print edition and on their website, too.

Sometimes, it still takes an old-fashioned newspaper to be able to put something as huge as the Summer Olympics into proper perspective.

For many, including myself, these have been a digital and "conversational" Olympics, too. Through Facebook, Twitter, texting and other social media, eager fans across the world have been able to engage in conversation ~ at times as the events are unfolding ~ with like-minded Olympic fans. In the past week, I've discussed LeBron James and the U.S. "dream team" with a basketball fan in Tunisia, and cheered for Phelps and Franklin with swimming fans in Germany and Hungary. Plus, I shared in the raw emotions of last Friday's 19-17 third-set tennis thriller between Roger Federer of Switzerland and Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina on Wimbledon's Centre Court with fans of both players, stretching from Canada to Scotland and from Morocco to Serbia, too.

While there's been many moments to digest and delight in during this London fortnight, there is one that's worth remembering for all the right reasons. It involved the sprinter Kirani James, who won the first medal for the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. Before Monday night, Grenada, which only gained its independence in 1974, had never had an Olympic medalist in any event. Now, it has a gold medalist in the talented 19-year-old James. It was special to see him receive his gold medal tonight and to hear his country's national anthem played before an electrifying-but-appreciative Olympic Stadium crowd. The BBC's television images captured the moment nicely for the all world to see, and James could be seen throughout the anthem singing the words to "Hail Grenada" with much emotion showing in his young face. It left me wondering if this magic Olympic moment will get left on the NBC editing floor?

Olympic spirit and flame / Colorful javelins are ready for
competition in front of the cauldron at Olympic Stadium.

Indeed, each day has brought us golden moments that will live on in our collective memory and, importantly, the Olympics have helped foster an appreciation for healthy competition among the world's elite athletes.

Which brings us full circle to Emil Zátopek for a dash of Olympics perspective. He observed: "Great is the victory, but the friendship of all is greater."

Photo of Olympic gold medal courtesy of Getty Images, 2012.
Photos of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps courtesy of the Guardian.co.uk, 2012.
Photo of Gabby Douglas courtesy of nytimes.com, 2012
Photo of Olympic cauldron courtesy of Reuters, 2012.

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