America’s Olympic athletes should make every one of us stand a bit taller this week. They have definitely done us proud.
We watched as 41-year-old Dara Torres, in the stressful minutes leading up to her historic 50-meter free style semi-final, noticed and responded to the needs of one of her competitors. While the rest of the finalists were focusing on their own upcoming races, Dara first stopped to help her Swedish competitor attempt to repair her torn swim suit, and then flagged down an official to hold the race until the Swedish woman could change. When she was asked about it afterwards, Dara shrugged her actions off as if anybody would have done it.
But anybody didn’t — in fact, American Torres was the ONLY one to stop and help.
And when she missed the gold medal by .01 of a second, she was the first to congratulate the German victor, joking that she should not have filed her nails.
We also watched our American gymnasts handle every obstacle with grace and dignity. Our women were forced to compete against a Chinese team who openly admitted that they were underage. One Chinese journalist openly spoke about the 14 and 15-year-olds on the team, and when questioned about that statement, replied that the communist Chinese government had issued passports with birthdates that qualified the little girls and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
The International Olympic Committee chose to look the other way, instead of insisting that China be held to the same rules as everyone else in the world.
But America’s gymnasts, who actually were the ones who had to cope with this open cheating, did not utter one negative word. Instead, they rose to the challenge. Even when, on the uneven bars, one of our young ladies was kept waiting at the starting line for nearly one full minute in what appeared to be an obvious and mean-spirited attempt to unnerve her, there was not one word of complaint.
Our team of young American athletes not only captured the silver team medal, but earned both the gold and the silver in the individual all-around competition.
And our men, who had to scramble to replace the top-ranked Hamm brothers when injuries kept them from competing, put together a team performance that put them on the podium with an Olympic bronze. A performance that no one believed was possible.
And America’s male swimmers proved that not only are they the best in the world, but they are the classiest. When American Jason Lezak finished his unbelievable anchor leg to out-touch Frenchman Alain Bernard for the gold medal in the men’s 4×100 relay, his first action was to congratulate his opponent on a fine effort. This despite the fact that Bernard had bragged that he and his teammates had come to “smash the Americans”. Lezak chose not to gloat, but instead offered his hand in friendship and acknowledgement of Bernard’s fine race.
The Olympics are supposed be as much about fostering positive international relationships as they are about competition. In this year in Beijing, our American Olympic team is leading the world in both areas.