— Shannon Lee Miller
U.S. 1996 Olympics gymnast
(b. March 10, 1977)
Few were stunned last week at my disclosure that I had never won an Olympic medal of any shade — gold, silver or bronze. Even fewer were shocked that I had never come close — not in a trial, a pre-trial or that which pre-dates a “pre.”
Since last Sunday’s column, some have even suggested a man of my ... maturity ... should no longer dwell on childhood fears of deep water, extreme heights, Godzilla or the Cookie Monster.
Constructive criticism is always good for the soul, especially for a former Olympian wannabe.
But that’s not the intent of today’s fodder. Returning to the scene of last week’s revelation, I wanted to take a final look at the 2012 London Olympics because they end today. Great Britain will dot the “i’s” with tonight’s closing ceremonies. Congrats and super kudos to the Brits. Their country, and their athletes, have done some exemplary work
Thumbs up especially to an international field of dreamers — U.S. included — whose heroic efforts have filled living room buckets with tears of joy by friends and loved ones back home.
Like seemingly every Olympiad, we’ve seen some overachieving youngsters and some underachieving superstars. We’ve cheered our favorites and jeered our rivals. We’ve basked in the glow of unfamiliar faces as they rise from oblivion to become overnight sensations. We’ve jumped for joy in the thrill of victory and slumped in our recliners in the misery of defeat. We’ve crowned knights of the round table and frowned on the theatrics of stinkers in the low road.
It’s all a part of athletic competition. And on the scoreboard at least, somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose. And sometimes, say about every four years, that’s where I lose sight of the true spirit of the Games.
With that in mind, I timidly say to you today, “Hi, I’m Rick ... and I’m a medals counter.”
I focus a little too much on the number of medals won, and not so much on the pain, the sweat and the sacrifices made by thousands of young athletes who have given it their all to represent their countries. I love them today in their shine, but I forget their names when the torch is snuffed. Shame on me. Each morning at work I check the medal count on ESPN.com and late at night before going to bed I await the newest totals on NBC. Double shame on me.
Yet, that’s what I do. Perhaps others do as well. We cheer those we adore and ignore the lessons we could learn in appreciating those we root against. It doesn’t mean we’re bad people. It just means we’re people.
The other day I talked with a community good ol’ boy who had not seen the latest medal counts.
“How many medals has ’Merica got?” he asked in Southernese, a language of which I am well acquainted for it is my own.
“Eighty-five or more,” I said. “Thirty-something are gold.”
“Who’s next in line?” my blue-collar friend continued.
“China,” I answered.
“Red China? How many they got?”
“Just ... China,” I corrected him. “They’ve got a few less medals than the U.S., but a bunch of gold. Russia and Great Britain are up there as well.”
“How many you reckon Red China’s gonna get?” he asked.
“By the time the diving is finished, I figure a couple’a hundred,” I chuckled.
“Huh? How d’you figure that?”
“They’re good,” I replied.
“Well, that’s all right,” he said. “We’ll get the best of’em. Ol’ Glory will fly high. We’re the best.”
I slapped his shoulder in gratitude for the enthusiasm and his strong sense of patriotism. He was a loyal U.S. fan who believed in the red, white and blue. But good is good. And this world has some great athletes. Not all are Americans. And I figure most have worked just as hard for their moment.
Returning to the office, I checked the medal count. As of late last Thursday, which I guess was early Friday in England, the count was 90 medals for the U.S. — 39 gold, 25 silver and 26 bronze. The China total was 80 ... 37 gold, 24 silver and 19 bronze. Russia at the time had 56 total, Britain had 52, Germany 37, Japan 33 and on down the line.
Surely these titans of the Olympiad beamed with pride at the success of their stellar athletes — men and women. Some had multiple medalists. A few athletes had five or six prized mementoes. Others might even have had more. Each of these strong nations rightfully was celebrating their hardware haul. And most wanted more. It was their right. Their athletes had earned the opportunity and they deserved the limelight.
It was then I scanned the remainder of the medals count list which included 76 countries. At the top was the U.S. with its 90. Nice job, guys and dolls. The list dropped to 55, to 32, to 15, to seven, to three, to two ... and to one. At the time, 11 countries had claimed only one medal ... a bronze. I pondered their cause. I imagined the thrill in the hearts of the parents of those sons and daughters who had earned Olympics glory. My testosterone level must have been low on this day because I felt a familiar sting in my eyes.
Eleven countries had medaled ... albeit a bronze ... one time. Yet their citizens surely danced in the streets just as the more celebrated homelands danced in theirs.
Now curious, I clicked the keyboard. I wanted to know who had won these single, isolated bronze medals.
One went to Rishod Sobirov, a 26-year-old from Uzbekistan who finished third in Men’s 60Kg Judo. Good for him.
One was earned by Riza Kayaalp, a 23-year-old from Turkey who won the bronze in Men’s 120Kg Wrestling. Kudos, Riza.
One bronze was won by Wai Sze Lee of Hong Kong in Track Cycling Women’s Keirin. I knew nothing about the sport, but congrats to this young lady, as well.
One third-place finish went to Mavzuna Chorieva of Tajikistan in boxing in the Women’s Lightweight division. Mavzuna’s hours, days, weeks and months of training in this unheralded sport brought glory to her people.
One went to Lalonde Gordon, a sprinter from tiny Tinidad and Tobago who raced in the Men’s 400 Meter event.
Each had earned a moment in time. All had embraced their destiny. Man or woman, they had made their nations proud whether their necklace dangled gold, silver or bronze ... or none at all.
That’s what the Olympics is all about — competing with dignity and seizing the glorious day. Not everyone wins. But no one loses.
That’s the Olympiad. These are the Games.
That’s Rishod, Riza, Wai Sze, Mavzuna, Lalonde and hundreds of others just like them.
The medals are great. But it’s not the numbers. It’s the heart, it’s the spirit ... of any who will chase the Olympian Dream.