i LOVE the Olympics!

“That they might have joy” column by Jacki Wood

Olympism, according to the Olympic Charter, combines sport with culture and education to create “a way of life” based on joy in effort, good example and respect.

Joy, sport, example, culture, respect. That’s what the Olympics are all about.

It’s the culmination of childhood dreams. It’s living four years at a time, and the realization of goals, hard work and love of sport.

And, yes, I am absolutely fascinated by it all.

I was nine years old when I watched the 1984 Olympics, a few weeks before I started fourth grade at Eugene Field Elementary.

Those games in Los Angeles are the first ones I can remember — Carl Lewis, running and jumping to four gold medals, the men’s gymnastics team winning gold, and of course, Mary Lou Retton’s perfect 10s.

Four years later in Seoul, I remember seeing Greg Louganis smack his head and then go on to win two gold medals.

The “Dream Team” of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and the gang hit the Olympics in 1992, beating teams by an average of over 43 points per game and easily taking the gold.

But it’s not just the athletes and their quest for gold that I love seeing — it’s also the stories.

Who could ever forget gymnast Kerri Strug at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. With a broken ankle, she stuck the landing on her second vault that led the US team to the gold medal.

At the 2000 Olympics, three-time Olympics champion and wrestler, Aleksandr Karelin, had not lost a match in 13 years and hadn’t given up a single point in six years when he faced Rulon Gardner. The Wyoming cowboy was competing in only his second major international event and upset Karelin to win the gold.

Probably one of the greatest stories I’ve ever witnessed was also in those Sydney games, when I was nine months pregnant with my daughter, Hannah.

The story is that of Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea, who had never seen a regulation-length swimming pool before arriving at the 2000 Olympics.

In fact, he had only been swimming competitively for nine months.

When his preliminary 100m freestyle race was about to begin, the only other two athletes in his heat were disqualified, leaving Moussambani to swim alone.

His time of 1.52.72 is one of the slowest in Olympic history, but as he swam, and as he struggled to finish, the spectators surrounding the pool rose to encourage him. They cheered as if he was one of their own.

Eight years later, I still get emotional when I think about Moussambani.

The 2008 Olympics in Beijing are making history, just as each one has done before.

And while there has been much controversy surrounding these games because of China and their government, the games, for me, are still simply about the athletes, their countries and the world coming together.

My daughter, born during those games eight years ago, has found a similar passion in watching the Olympics. We have enjoyed watching and discussing gymnastics, diving, water polo, volleyball and the likes, loving Michael Phelps and his great teammates, Dara Torres, Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, etc., etc., etc.

The Olympics not only bring the world together, but also families.

Good thing, though, that they only come around every couple of years. The boys might kick Hannah and me out of the house…we’re a little obsessed.

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