Olympic feeling doesn’t have to end on Sunday

The Olympics have a little something for every sports fan — casual or diehard. Watching Michael Phelps has been great theater. Although there is no relation to myself as far as I know, I do get a kick out of seeing “Phelps wins gold” flash on every news and sports Web site on the Internet. But Phelps’ quest for eight gold medals, the most won at one Games by an Olympian in history, brings the best of sports to the forefront of our culture. I haven’t heard much talk of steroids at these games — the only time was when previous world record holders hailed from the former East Germany.

  • Wednesday, August 20, 2008 12:00am
  • Sports

The Olympics have a little something for every sports fan — casual or diehard. Watching Michael Phelps has been great theater. Although there is no relation to myself as far as I know, I do get a kick out of seeing “Phelps wins gold” flash on every news and sports Web site on the Internet. But Phelps’ quest for eight gold medals, the most won at one Games by an Olympian in history, brings the best of sports to the forefront of our culture. I haven’t heard much talk of steroids at these games — the only time was when previous world record holders hailed from the former East Germany.

All the money in professional sports makes a fan step back just a little from the competition. Whether it is not being able to identify with a whining millionaire complaining about his contract or your favorite player or team being traded to another city, it is not something that most of us can truly identify with.

The great spirit of the Olympics for the fans is to know that our athletes, even Kobe Bryant, Venus Williams and Lauren Jackson, are competing for more than the money. Yes, money is a motivating factor. Phelps and any of the other Olympians who have won gold will receive endorsement offers. But that type of payment is different. It is like the gold medal itself. You have to work for it. You don’t get paid before you do the job. If you get hurt, no endorsements. If you take fourth or fifth, no endorsements. It is motivation to try harder, not to give up halfway because you already got what you want. The drive of these athletes is pure. They have sacrificed to get to the Olympics.

For most of the athletes, this is the pinnacle of their sport. Watching as much gymnastics, track and field, swimming and volleyball as I do during the school year, I am aware of how much dedication it takes to excel at these sports. They are not sports in which you compete in front of large crowds or even get the respect of mainstream sports.

It always sends shutters up my spine when I hear of athletes who suffer an injury just before competing at the Olympics. To have one goal that you have trained for your entire life be dashed in a split second before you even get to compete is crazy. Then the athlete has the choice of waiting four more years, being that much older just to take another shot. High school sports are a much smaller version of this conundrum. For high school athletes, they only have to wait one year, as long as they are not seniors. But the injury factor for a wrestler or gymnast during the preseason can mean an abrupt end to a season.

One element of the Olympics that always seems to get to me is that people only like these certain sports every four years when they are on TV. The action, emotions and anticipation that most spectators feel while watching the Olympics can be found at their local high school. Inevitably, most of the gymnastics and swim meets are relatively empty. Some parents or friends dot the bleachers, but it is not like a high school baseball, football or basketball game.

During the past seven years, I have had the pleasure of watching some of the top Washington state athletes come out of Mercer Island High School. The word Olympian used to be whispered around such Islander athletes as Sean Sussex and Jesse Johnson. Sussex was one of the most dominating swimmers I have ever seen, winning multiple state titles and eventually swimming for USC. Johnson, a wrestler and rower for the Islanders, has gone on to help power the University of Washington men’s crew team to a national title. While both may still end up at the opening ceremonies, their high school accomplishments were no less spectacular or exciting.

The irony of the Olympics is that most of the athletes competing at the Summer Games started out in a high school gymnasium, performing in front of friends and parents.

The excitement and purity of the Summer Games doesn’t have to end on Aug. 24. Head to Mary Wayte Pool or Mercer Island High School to experience a little bit of that excitement in person and root for a hometown athlete this fall. Who knows, you might see the next Michael Phelps. It always sends shutters up my spine when I hear of athletes who suffer an injury just before competing at the Olympics. To have one goal that you have trained for your entire life be dashed in a split second before you even get to compete is crazy. Then the athlete has the choice of waiting four more years, being that much older just take another shot. High school sports are a much smaller version of this conundrum. For high school athletes, they only have to wait until next year as long as they are not a senior. But the injury factor for a wrestler or gymnast in during the post season can mean the abrupt end to a season.

One element of the Olympics that always seems to get to me is that people only like these certain sports every four years when they are on TV. The action, emotions and anticipation that most spectators feel while watching the Olympics can be found at their local high school. Inevitably most of the gymnastics and swim meets are relatively empty. Some parents or friends dot the bleachers, but it not like a high school baseball, football or basketball game.

During the past seven years I have had the pleasure of watching some of the top Washington state athletes come out of Mercer Island High School. The word Olympian used to be whispered around such Islander athletes as Sean Sussex and Jesse Johnson. Sussex was one of the most dominating swimmers I have ever seen, winning multiple state titles and eventually swimming for USC. Johnson, a wrestler and rower for the Islanders, has gone on to help power the University of Washington mens’ crew team to a national title. While both may still end up at the opening ceremonies, their high school accomplishments were no less spectacular or exciting.

The irony of the Olympics is that most of the athletes competing at the summer games started out in a high school gymnasium, performing in front of friends and parents.

The excitement and purity of the summer games doesn’t have to end on August 24. Head to Mary Wayte Pool or Mercer Island High School to experience a little bit of that excitement in person and root for a hometown athlete this fall. Who knows, you might see the next Micheal Phelps.

More in Sports

Maya Virdell, left, and Susie Lepow, right, will compete at the USATF Nationals Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships, which take place from July 22-28 in Sacramento, California. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island Cross Country Booster Club
Mercer Island athletes compete at USATF Region 13 track and field championships in Tacoma

Maya Virdell and Susie Lepow will travel to California for Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships.

Mercer Island Islanders boys basketball player Nigel Seda, left, drives to the hoop in a game against the Interlake Saints during the 2018-19 season. Seda will be one of four returners to the starting lineup during the 2019-20 season. Photo courtesy of Patrick Krohn/Patrick Krohn Photography
Islanders prove their mettle at Gonzaga team camp

Mercer Island Islanders boys basketball squad is an experienced group.

Alex Edwards captured USA Swimming All-American honors for his stellar 2018-19 season with the Mercer Island Islanders. Photo courtesy of Bruce Edwards
Edwards earns USA Swimming All-American honors

Stellar 2018-19 season garners recognition.

Mercer Island Islanders midfielder Matt Capone (right), passes the ball to a teammate in a contest against the Juanita Rebels during the 2019 season. Capone will play soccer at Northwest Nazarene University this fall. Photo courtesy of Patrick Krohn/Patrick Krohn Photography
Attaining a dream on the soccer field

Mercer Island 2019 grad Matt Capone will play college soccer at Northwest Nazarene University.

Mercer Island Islanders 2019 graduate Teague Conder (pictured) will continue his baseball career at Whitman College in Walla Walla. Photo courtesy of Teague Conder
Conder to continue baseball career at Whitman College

Former Mercer Island third baseman embraces the action.

Peacocks roam the neighborhood of Beards Cove in sportswriter Shaun Scott’s childhood hometown of Belfair. Shaun Scott/staff photo
Running alongside a beautiful creature

Peacocks roam the streets of the neighborhood I grew up in.

Mercer Island Islanders sophomore Tegan Yuasa is currently the top-ranked male 55-kilogram athlete in the sport of Judo. Yuasa will compete at the Cadet World Championships, which will take place from Sept. 25-29 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photo courtesy of Mark Yuasa
Yuasa earns first place in the USA Judo Elite Senior National Championships

Mercer Island High School sophomore Tegan Yuasa captured first place in the… Continue reading

The Mercer Island FC Maroon girls soccer team earned a 2-1 victory against the PacNW Blue in the President’s Cup D2 championship contest May 12. Photo courtesy of Tom Hill
Maroon girls soccer team completes journey with a championship

Teamwork propels Maroon soccer team to third title in five seasons.

Mercer Island senior Matthew Capone, left, dribbles the ball up field while being guarded by Juanita sophomore Andrew Taylor in a game on April 11. Capone earned first-team all-3A KingCo honors as a midfielder during the 2019 season. Photo courtesy of Patrick Krohn/Patrick Krohn Photography
Islanders athletes capture all-league honors

Bevy of Mercer Island soccer/baseball players garner recognition.

The Mercer Island Islanders tennis doubles team consisting of Kevin Chen/Chris Elliott earned first place at the 3A state tennis tournament on May 25 in Kennewick. Photo courtesy of MC Chen
Doubles duo attains a coveted goal on the tennis court

The doubles team of Kevin Chen/Chris Elliott goes undefeated at the 3A state tournament.

Coach Don Papasedero, Gihoe Seo, Grace Shaddle, Annelise Rorem, Katelyn Travis, Lilly Pruchno and coach Tim Okamura take a team photo with the 3A third place trophy on May 22 at Hawks Prairie Golf Course in Lacey. Photo courtesy of Billy Pruchno
Mercer Island girls golf team captures third place at 3A state tourney

Islanders’ girls golf squad rises to the occasion in final tournament of 2019.

Mercer Island player Glen Mahony (No. 9) leaps on the back of Will Wheeler (No. 14) during the 3A state championship game against the Bellevue Wolverines. Mercer Island defeated Bellevue 14-6 on May 25 at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. Photo courtesy of Rick Edelman/Rick Edelman Photography
Islanders win 3A state lacrosse championship

Mercer Island finishes 2019 season with 18 victories.