It's almost over. I get a little sad saying
farewell to each Olympic Games, as it means saying good-bye to a city,
a group of
athletes, and a group of people that I have worked with as closely as a
can. I'm also always a little relieved - there is only so long
kinds of hours can be worked, this much information can be known, and
much experience can be had.
But what an Olympics these have been.
Yes, the controversy surrounding Paul Hamm
has taken a lot of space in these Games. And we know that Michael Phelps achieved what seemed
impossible - eight medals. And we rooted wildly for those other
wonders of the pool - Australia's Ian Thorpe,
the Netherlands' Pieter van den Hoogenband,
Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry, and
Americans Aaron Piersol, Natalie Coughlin, Amanda
Beard -- in both individual events and electrifying relays
But don't forget Chilean tennis wonders Fernando
Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu
on the court, playing marathon matches and getting two golds and a
bronze to show for it. Or Pyrros Dimas,
standing before his beloved fans in one of the most poignant medal
ceremonies in Olympic history, 6000 people singing the national anthem
of the bronze, not the gold, medalist. Athens also saw the
farewell of American wrestling hero Rulon
Gardner who, like Dimas,
left his boots on the mat, signifying retirement. Karam Ibrahim celebrated the first gold
for Egypt since 1948 by flipping through the air after winning his 96kg
Greco-Roman wrestling match. And friendship abounded when
Israel's Gal Fridman won gold and
Greece's Nikos Kaklmanakis - who
the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony - won silver in sailing. The
two, friends and training partners, stood amidst the cheers of their
fans as the Israeli national anthem played for the first time at a
victory ceremony of an Olympic Games.
Indeed, these Games showed the variety of emotions involved in
sports: American marathoner Deena Kastor,
overcome with joy and emotion at finding herself in bronze medal
upon entering the 1896 Olympic Stadium, cried through her last lap,
while Gail Devers could only
in pain - both physical and emotional - after crashing into her first
While beach volleyball gold medalists Kerri
Walsh and Misty May
celebrated their victory by running around the sand-filled stadium,
the hands of friends and family, Indonesia's Taufik
Hidayat, the John McEnroe of badminton, broke down in tears
front of hundreds of his compatriots, proud, finally, of his
The U.S. men's eight rowers threw coxswain Pete
Cipollone - who is a good foot shorter than the rest of the
- into the water after their victory
American fencer Mariel Zagunis wasn't
even supposed to be here - she got her spot when a member of the
Nigerian team dropped out in June, leaving a vacancy for the next
highest world-ranked fencer to compete - but she returns home with a
gold medal in women's individual saber, while teammate Sada Jacobson brings home bronze - the
first-ever female fencing medals in U.S. history.
And what is your favorite moment, my friends will ask. I won't
hesitate: Hacham El Guerrouj winning
gold in the men's 1500m, and then securing his place as one of the
greatest middle distance runners in history by winning the 5000m.
It is a feat achieved only once before, and by the great Paavo Nurmi so many decades ago.
In Atlanta, I watched El Guerrouj fall
and finish last, consoled by none other than King
Hassan II of
Morocco himself. Going into Sydney undefeated for the previous
years, he failed yet again in the final lap, taking silver this
Better than Atlanta, but not gold.
But here, he captures not one, but two. Here, another King - this
time Hassan's son, Muhammad, calls
him not to console, but to celebrate.
And celebration is what we have done in Athens.
Pete Cipollone, coxswain of the victorious U.S. Men's