What is it about the Olympics that makes it such an extraordinary event? Many of the world's top athletes compete every year in various events. Each annual world championship presents an opportunity to set world records. So why does it matter so much to win a medal at the Olympics? It matters because the Olympics takes place every four years on the world stage. It's when the entire world sends their best to live up to the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger).
That is the goal of every athlete who comes to the Olympic Games, to be faster, higher, and stronger than all others; to compete against the very best, and to exceed one's own self.
So what does it mean when top seeded athletes don't win the gold? Are their achievements diminshed? Are their abilities questioned? Some of the world's greatest champions never win gold; but it doesn't mean they're any less skilled. It just means that they miss out on winning another trophy, even if it's the prestigious Olympic gold.
And so it was on Day 6, Thursday for number 1 ranked tennis player Roger Federer. Is Roger Federer any less a spectacular athlete because he's lost his chance to win the gold? No, he's still an incredible athlete; he just won't have an Olympic medal in his trophy case. But such is the case with many of the world's star athletes. Sometimes, you win it all and top it off with an Olympic gold. Sometimes, it just wasn't meant to be.
And sometimes, it's the only opportunity for an unknown to make it big and win. It is a glorious win in an event like no other! But it's not just the winners that earn respect and prestige here. It's the very nature of the human struggle played out on the world stage that stirs the emotion and makes the Olympics so much more meaningful. We cheer for the extraordinary victories; we feel for the shattering losses. We identify with the joys of exceeding human limitations. And we share in the sorrow of some devastating defeats. Perhaps the very essence of why the Olympics is so special is that we spur on the fallen to finish in their quests. After all, it's our nature to want to get back up after falling, to finish what we started, for that itself is a greater victory, a higher glory.
The Spirit of the Olympics is defined by it's motto of faster, higher, and stronger. And that very Spirit is alive through it's creed:
The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
That is the very essence of the Olympic Games. That's what makes it an extraordinary event.
*UPDATE 14 Aug 2008, 11:55 PM: Olympic Moment from Day 6, Thursday
And what an incredible day for women's gymnastics! Nastia Liukin, wins the gold medal for women's gymnastic all around champion! Another Russian immigrant who wins a medal for America. Her father was a former Russian Olympic gold medalist in 1988 and her mother was the 1987 World Champion for rhythmic gymnastics. The family emigrated to the US when the USSR collapsed. She has her father's acrobatic talents and her mother's grace. What makes her win even more amazing is that everyone, including most of the US, had somehow assigned her second place before the event even started. It was so annoying to hear the commentators talk about how she was second best to the other American girl, but tonight, Nastia Liukin showed the world that she was the best.
And it was a controversial competition where some of the contestants fell on their butts and somehow still got better scores, like China's Jiang Yuyuan.
Shawn Johnson, the current world all around champ and favored to win the gold, could not stick any of her landings. Even with her higher degree of difficulty routines, the steps she took in her landings cost her the gold. But she ended up with silver. I honestly thought the Russians and Romanians did so much better than the Chinese. In fact, the bronze should've gone to Russia or Romania!
With the field plagued by mistakes, Nastia Liukin had to perform flawlessly to pull ahead of the crowd. If they were still scoring using the old, less confusing system, Nastia would've earned a perfect 10! She danced and flew upon that balance beam better than all the rest. And it was a beautiful, dazzling floor performance that earned her the gold.
And another fantastic athlete often regarded as second best in his field won the gold today. People often forget that Michael Phelps has earned his gold with the help of his teammates. And those teammates include Ryan Lochte, who set a new world record in the 200m backstroke. Then he came back half an hour later to win a bronze in the 200m individual medley! Sure Michael Phelps won the gold in that event, but Ryan earns a lot of respect for medaling in two strenuous events within an hour!
Rebecca Soni pulls off a stunning gold medal win and sets a new world record in the 200m breaststroke, beating out the former world record holder and favorite. But perhaps the luckiest athlete tonight is Australia's Lisbeth Trickett, the former world record holder for the 100m freestyle who shockingly did not qualify in the heats yesterday! Until the heat winner, China's Pang Jiaying, was disqualified for a false start, giving Trickett the last spot in the finals today! Had Pang Jiaying not flinched her head, Trickett would've been left out. How embarrassing would it have been for the world record holder to not make the cut for the finals! And so, trying to redeem herself, Trickett earns the silver while Britta Steffen wins the gold and sets a new world record. That's Lisabeth Trickett on the left of the picture.
The picture says it all, doesn't it? Lisbeth Trickett's expression says, 'Oops, I got a lucky break!'
What a dramatic finish to today's events!