By Stephanie Holland
By Stephanie Holland
To most the Olympics are about going for the gold. However, for the vast majority of athletes competing, the journey is the reward.
Many of these competitors spend their entire lives training for moments that will last minutes. When their moments are over some have achieved their dreams of winning gold, while most will be happy just to have competed.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics were controversial from the moment the announcement was made seven years ago.
There were constant questions about how the Chinese government would treat the rest of the world. Political freedom and human rights issues were pushed front and center during the torch relay.
With wars raging around the globe detractors questioned even having the games. However, from the first moment of its breathtaking opening ceremonies China proved the world wrong.
Those opening ceremonies were directed by Zhang Yimou who had a blank check to bring his masterpiece to life. Budget for the spectacle was rumored to be in the $3 billion dollar range. Every cent of that was visible in what most consider the most stunning opening ceremonies ever.
Those ceremonies led the way into the first week of competition, headlined by superstar Michael Phelps.
There are no adjectives left to describe Phelps accomplishments, but one could say he single-handedly saved the first week of the games.
The other first week story was that of the US men’s basketball “redeem” team. Consisting of NBA superstars like Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, the team had a lot to prove.
They ended up beating Spain 118-107 in the gold medal game and not only did they make their country proud by winning the gold, but they represented America with class.
Perhaps the best picture of the Olympics was when the team gathered around Coach Mike Krzyzewski and placed all their gold medals around his neck.
Joining their counterparts in winning the gold medal was the US women’s basketball team. Led by Los Angeles Sparks Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker the team won their fourth straight gold medal.
Leslie, a Los Angeles native who went to USC, had announced that this would be her last Olympics and in the final moments of the game tears began to fall as she bid farewell to USA basketball.
American women had a great Olympics as they won medals in Soccer, Gymnastics, Volleyball and Rowing.
Also winning a medal was the US softball team, they were upset by Japan in the gold medal game. This game carried a bittersweet mood to it because this is softball’s last appearance in the Olympics.
After accepting their medals, the women who proudly represent this sport reluctantly left their shoes on the field as a sign of its retirement.
Softball does have the opportunity to be voted back in for the 2016 games, however many of these players will be too old to compete by then.
The second week of the games was all about track and field.
While they won the most medals of any country, the US suffered from setbacks in many of the more high profile events.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment came when Lolo Jones, while on her way to gold in the 100m hurdles, hit the last hurdle and stumbled across the line, her dreams of gold dashed in a matter of seconds.
Her devastation was impossible to ignore as she lay in a heap on the track wondering if this was her only chance at gold.
In true Olympic spirit, moments later she dusted herself off and congratulated teammate Dawn Harper on her victory.
As competition came to a close only one story was left unfinished. The American men’s volleyball team began these games with tragedy when their coach’s father-in-law was killed.
The team used the tragedy as a motivator for the rest of the tournament, often coming back and defeating top countries like Brazil and Russia.
The team’s improbable gold medal victory was the US’s first in twenty years. It made for a fantastic ending to a tragic story and a triumphant ending to a successful games.
A large part of closing the games is the handover ceremony to the next host.
This year that honor belonged to London, who will have the games in 2012.
London made its presentation on a red double decker bus and featured performers like Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Leona Lewis and soccer superstar David Beckham.
With the closing ceremonies China celebrated a tremendous Olympics that showed the world the beauty of its people, who not only cheered for Chinese athletes but displayed a graciousness that contradicted the world view of their country.
The extinguishing of the Olympic flame is always a bittersweet moment because it signals the official ending of two weeks of living in a world where anything is possible, enemies become friends and rivals become teammates. It also reminds everyone of the sad truth that this world can only exist for two weeks every four years.