Olympics taught us all a thing or two about life

Having wrapped up an international celebration worthy of gold-medal praise, the Australians have delivered a shining example for future Olympic host cities to emulate, providing more than enough of those memorable Kodak moments to fill innumerable scrapbooks. And, as the Olympics have drawn to a close, we simply can’t resist taking one last lingering look at Games of the 27th Olympiad.

The first Games of the new millennium certainly lived up to the Olympic creed which is derived from the Latin phrase: "citius, altius, fortius" meaning "swifter, higher, stronger". With world records set and incredible feats of athletic ability demonstrated, the games were filled with their share of American-made predictable victories — blended beautifully with more than enough surprise, startling upsets and disappointment to keep things interesting.

For the cynics, surely no one can argue with the fact that the games have strayed a long way from their "purely athletic" ideal. Historically, the drama taking place off the athletic field has at times proven itself even more compelling than that which takes place in the Olympic venues. Snapshots and telecasts from the games in Mexico City offered the political symbolism of Black Power as clenched fists showed the world the magnitude of racial unrest in the United States. The image of hostages, terrorism and shocking deaths will forever be etched in our minds as the lingering impression from Munich. Politics at it worst tainted the Moscow and Los Angeles games with international boycotts and Cold War anger robbing many athletes of their only chance for Olympic glory. Blood doping and performance enhancing steroids grabbed the headlines away from legitimate athletes in Seoul. Crass commercialism, bribery, corruption and influence peddling have been added to the mix of the modern day Olympiad, causing some to wonder if the Games have become more trouble than they’re worth.

In spite of all the controversy and the most recent round of drug abuse allegations, there are more than enough sincere, heartfelt moments and positive examples of sportsmanship to make the games worthwhile. For, when all is said and done, the Olympics still bring with them an undeniable spirit. There are chances for the world to watch and hold its breath as athletes young and old get close enough to touch their life-long dreams — while carrying the pride and expectations of entire nations on their shoulders. Athletes and their families who have sacrificed much of their lives for this opportunity have earned that goose-bump-raising moment when their country’s flag is hoisted in triumph and the national anthem rings through the crowded venue.

When it comes to sportsmanship, the American athletes and their fans could certainly take a lesson from their Aussie hosts by tempering the pride in our inevitable success. Some of the most poignant moments of the Games came as the Australian fans stood and cheered enthusiastically for the young African swimmer who labored the length of the Olympic pool to post a time that will never appear in any record book and just as loudly for those who struggled at the end of the grueling marathon as the medallists. By remembering to appreciate the outstanding efforts by competitors from other nations, Americans might be able to erase the "ugly American" image.

After the roads of Sydney have been swept clean of the debris left by thousands of athletes and their fans, perhaps American hero and worldclass cyclist Lance Armstrong’s words will sum it up for everyone. After finishing a disappointing 13th in his first medal attempt last Wednesday, Armstrong remarked: "Win or lose — I’m having a blast." Armstrong surely exemplifies the words of the athletes’ oath: "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."

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