Olympics – Glory off the dais

If you look close enough in the aftermath of the 2012 Summer Olympics, you’ll notice many athletes returning home feeling enormous pride and satisfaction with their performances in London, even though they never got near a dais, a medal ceremony or even a final.

In my job I get to be part of the daily international news and current affairs cycle. But over the first fortnight of this month, as most of the sports-loving world stopped to watch the London 2012 Olympics, I too was allowed to indulge this particular passion within the confines of my daily work.

I reported each day on the events and results from 26 sports being played by just under 11,000 athletes from 204 nations.

While it is easy to get swept up in the euphoria of world records, gold medals and star athletes, it’s some of the individual stories of achievements that catch your eye and your spirit.

I came to revel in the stories that were less highlighted but not of less significance: the 15 year old girl, Ruta Meilutyte from Lithuania, who took the pool by storm with a World record and a gold medal in the Women’s breaststroke – a first for her country; 29 year old George Bovell from Trinidad & Tobago who made the final of the Men’s 50m Freestyle – something never before achieved by a Trinidadian in the pool; and one of my favorite moments when Sarah Attar ran around the athletics track in a heat of the Women’s 800m event to thunderous applause from the 80,000 strong crowd not because she was winning – in fact she was trailing the other competitors by over half a lap – but because she was the first female to represent Saudi Arabia in athletics.

Each day there was a lot of information to filter, but my brief had an angle: to look at how athletes faired from the Asia-Pacific region, especially the 15 small Pacific nations which took part.

At the end of the first week of competition when the track events began at the main stadium, eleven Pacific nations had 17 athletes competing in the 100m sprint events for both men and women.

The preliminary heats of the Women’s race were run and from the results for eight pacific women, four ran personal best times, one ran a national record and another a season’s best time; but only one made it through to the next round.

In the Men’s event, nine pacific runners took part and three ran personal best times.

For most of these athletes it was their only appearance for the fortnight: they ran on the track,  in front tens of thousands of people, for around 12secs and were done! Finished! And it was without a doubt the highlight of their lives so far.

And I would wager these were among some of the happiest athletes in London.

This is the underlying and still very relevant premise of the Olympic Games – achieving excellence. And while the prominent images and messages of the modern Olympic era are of commercialism and medal success, these stories that for the most part fly under the radar, are the ones we should remember and celebrate.

About Jill Scanlon

Blues fan and sports lover. Development through sports advocate; producer, journalist and news follower. Insanely have returned to p/t study - a Masters of International & Community Development. Formerly with ABC International / Radio Australia in Melbourne.

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