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.

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