17 days, 958 medals, 43 world records, hundreds of thousands of fireworks and countless tears. Never has a sporting event held the world at rapt attention like the games of the 29th Olympiad.
Oh, there were controversies to be sure: Fake fireworks, lip-synching children, age fabrication and the ever-present issue of Chinese censorship were all murmured about with varying degrees of intensity. For the most part, however, Beijing did nothing but charm us over the last two weeks — placing itself as the backdrop to a breathtaking stage of athletics.
Beijing gave us stories of gold: Lisa Leslie took home her fourth consecutive gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team in what will be her last Olympics; Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor added volleyball gold to the medals they won in 2004 before they both leave the sport to have children; and U.S. women’s soccer coach Pia Sundhage’s team won the first gold medal victory she’s had as an international head coach.
“When I was six years old, I thought I was the only girl in the whole world who played soccer. I wasn’t allowed to play because I was a girl,” Sundhage said. “Back then, I could never imagine to be a professional player or a professional coach. Now I’m sitting with a great player, Christie Rampone, and looking at her gold medal. I am so proud.”
Beijing gave us stories of silver: The U.S. softball team lost their first game since 2000, falling to Japan in the gold medal match up, and the U.S. women’s volleyball team came in second behind Brazil in their final game.
“I look at the medal around my neck and it’s such an accomplishment for this team and the USA and these girls,” said wing-spiker Logan Tom. “It just brought tears to my eyes, and I’m more than thrilled.”
Perhaps the best story to come out of Beijing, however, is a story of bronze.
On the eve of the Olympic opening ceremony, there was a conflict between Russia and Georgia. A few days later, Nino Salukvadze and Natalia Paderina — of Russia and Georgia, respectively — faced off in the women’s 10 meter air pistol event. Paderina just edged out Salukvadze, and on the medal stand, with silver and bronze medals in hand, while their countries’ armies set a path toward destruction, the two women turned and embraced each other.
“If the world were to draw any lessons from what I did,” Salukvadze told reporters after the medal ceremony, “there would never be any wars.”
The hope of the Olympics is that it will transcend politics, that athletes will rise above nationality, ethnicity, gender and even sexuality, to point us in a direction where we can all embrace one another. So count the games of the 29th Olympiad a dazzling success. Well done, world. We’ll see you in London.