08/23/08 — Pure gold: Stories of inspiration, grace abound from U.S. Olympians

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Pure gold: Stories of inspiration, grace abound from U.S. Olympians

After two weeks of pageantry and a little more than the average controversy, the Olympic Games in Beijing are almost over -- and the world is anticipating as glorious a closing as it witnessed when the Games opened.

And for those of you who did not watch -- either out of a lack of interest or because of China's abysmal record of human rights violations and persecution of religious freedom -- there are more than a few reasons for you to be proud of how American athletes fared.

And all those stories do not begin and end with medals.

In an age when winning is everything, there were many, many examples of American sportsmanship -- even in the face of extreme disappointment.

It could not have been easy for the women's gymnastics team to ignore the controversy surrounding the age of the Chinese athletes, or to overcome what was nothing short of a disaster for one of their fellow gymnasts that likely cost them the gold medal.

However, they accepted the silver with the class that comes with being true champions, and stood tall as a team. After all, they said, they were there for their country, not themselves.

Contrast that with the Cinderella story of the men's gymnastics team. Not slated to do anything when two of their stars were unable to compete, they rallied, determined to represent their country with honor. They brought home a bronze, but it might as well have been gold.

And then there was the hapless U.S. track and field team. Many disappointments in this Olympic Games -- especially in the sprint competitions -- and many lost medals. However, favorites like Tyson Gaye in the 100 meters and Lolo Jones in the 110-meter hurdles might have lost their races, but not their dignity. Both made no excuses, threw no tantrums. They exited with the grace that becomes a champion even if they left without the medals they were supposed to bring home. They are the kind of role models that every child should know about.

We also met Henry Cejudo this week -- the American wrestler who came from a family of illegal immigrants and brought home the first wrestling gold medal in his weight class in decades. How's that for an American dream?

A group of NBA stars also learned something about themselves this week -- and what the word "team" really means. They were there, cheering on athletes who will never have the multi-million-dollar contracts they will command, whose moment in the sun comes every four years. They were there because they were part of a team.

These stars were gracious in their victories and humble in their pursuit of their own Olympic dreams and made sure to remind everyone that they were proud to wear their country's uniform.

And then there was Michael Phelps. A tremendous achievement, eight gold medals, but one he shared with members of two relay squads who were determined to make sure his streak went unbroken. He shared his glory with them -- as a true champion should.

These are just a few of the stories that have made the Olympic Games a reason to be proud to be an American. More than boasts of athletic achievement, they are inspirational reminders that this country is great for millions of reasons -- its people and their spirit.

So, even if the Olympics weren't your thing, read up on some of your athletes. They did you proud -- and their stories are the stuff of which real role models are made.

Published in Editorials on August 23, 2008 11:37 PM