I was born in 1984. My first real Olympic memories are of the 1992 Dream Team, but I’ve never felt a real connection to the Olympics beyond the men’s basketball team (from my love of the NBA) until this year. I probably watched more Olympics coverage in 2008 than the past few Olympic Games combined.
It all started with Michael Phelps. How could you not root for this swimming sensation, who has now won a record 14 Olympic gold medals and is (like me) just 23 years young.
Two of my favorite Olympic moments featured Phelps swimming live for the gold, but the top moment of the 29th Olympiad, in my opinion, goes to Jason Lezak, who seemed to turn on a propeller to fly past the French in the final leg of the 4x100m freestyle relay. His impossible swim—the fastest 100m of his life by a full second—gave the Americans the gold and kept Phelps’ dream of a record eight golds alive.
That dream nearly came to an end in the 100m butterfly, but Phelps staged his own comeback and won by the narrowest of margins, .01 seconds. To the human eye, the difference was indiscernible.
Finally, Phelps’ eighth gold medal encapsulated it all. I watched the swim, another relay, at a bar for my brother’s 21st birthday. As the swim progressed the entire bar broke out into a spontaneous chant of U-S-A! U-S-A! I got goose bumps. Phelps got gold. America had a new invincible hero.
I wasn’t around in 1980 for the Miracle on Ice (but I get goose bumps just hearing Al Michaels on the replay). This moment wasn’t quite that. It wasn’t head-to-head with the Soviets in the midst of the Cold War. But this was a triumphant moment in its own right.
Phelps was the star, but the Olympics were not a one-man show.
It was great seeing sports that don’t get a lot of television time on TV. I loved watching volleyball—indoors and on the beach. With rally scoring, it is a high-paced, action-packed sport. With the right marketing, I think volleyball could have some sort of national prominence, possibly on the level of Arena Football.
I even found myself watching gymnastics, really appreciating what these athletes can do.
I’d be remiss not to mention Usain Bolt. The Jamaican sprinter torched the competition to earn the title of World’s Fastest Man, picking up three golds along the way.
It’s disappointing that we now have to wait until 2012 for the next Summer Olympics in London, but I think that four-year wait is also what makes the events so special. In this case, absence does make the heart grow fonder.
The start of football season will make the transition easy, but I won’t soon forget the summer of 2008 when the gap between basketball and football season was saved by a truly captivating Olympics.
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