There are three things that can make my eyes leak at a drop of the hat: suffering, beauty, and the Olympic Games. And the Rio Games has been a combination of all three with some of the most gritty and glorious performances I can ever remember.
There was Katie Ledecky, who has only ever won gold medals, suffering so badly from exhaustion towards the end of her 200 meter freestyle that she afterwards stated, “That’s the closest I’ve ever come to throwing up in the middle of a race.”
And there was Michael Phelps, giving his ‘death stare’ to arch nemesis, South African Chad Le Clos who, taunting him, turned to face Phelps in the holding room and shadow boxed the thin air between them. Ah, the glory of the thrashing Phelps administered to his rival as he reclaimed his signature butterfly event gold medal, becoming unquestionably the greatest swimmer in history (and this coming from the girl who had ‘that’ poster of hunky Mark Spitz and his 7 medals adorning the inside door of her high school locker).
Particularly inspiring for me was the equestrian Three Day Event which features an imposing, grueling and downright frighting cross country course. 33 enormous, solid, jumps including water, ditches and breathtaking spreads all within a distance of 5,840 meters allowing an optimum time of 10 minutes, 15 seconds before time penalties are incurred. Competitors were unanimous that this was the most difficult, tiring course since the Sydney Games and horses would have to be exceedingly fit both mentally, to handle the countless combination hurdles and steep angles, as well as be in the best physical condition possible.
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And out in the middle of it was 47 year old William Fox Pitt, of England, who 10 months ago was dead to the world in a two week coma, the result of a very bad fall. He suffered blurred vision for months, even stating that it was a relief when the blurring transitioned into double vision, but this meant “when I began jumping again, I saw two jumps and often didn’t know which jump I was jumping until right in front of it.”
But that is event riders. He had a scorching clean cross country trip as did my personal hero, 8 time Olympian, representing New Zealand, Mark Todd who kicked some serious booty, at age 60, by also riding a textbook example of remaining in perfect balance and presenting his horse to each jump with the perfect number of strides and take off point, ripping round with another clean round.
And if I hear any of you dare say, “But isn’t it the horse that does all the work?” I will personally give you a riding lesson at my farm and I promise you, you will be begging for mercy in twenty minutes and unable to walk for a week, k?
But, at least in my mind, the greatest heroes of the Olympics are the parents. As brilliant as the athletic performances were, I cannot imagine the emotional exhaustion and nerves of those finger biting family members in the stands.
Aly Raines mother, Lyn, watching her gymnast daughter obliterate the competition in her second Olympics looked utterly hung over with fatigue, barely managing a smile at the end, heaving a long pent up sigh of relief and burying her face in her hands for a moment and dad, Rick, looked pretty worn out, too.
In Silver contention is Michael Phelps’ mother, Deborah, fiancee, Nicole, and baby, Boomer, ears clad in protective sound muffs, all biting their lips only to explode in tearful joy as Michael pounded his way to victory. Watching Phelps struggle over the years to become the 31 year old man of integrity and responsibility he is today can only be staggering.
But I have to award the Gold to the grandparents of Simone Biles, who selflessly adopted her and sister, Adria, after the children were subjected to six years of foster care (Simone being only an infant when removed from the home) after being abandoned by their father and removed from their drug and alcohol addicted mother. Simone has stated she now refers to grandparents Ron and Nellie as ‘Mom and Dad,’ after practicing saying it over and over in her bedroom mirror and then walking down to breakfast one day, saying, “Mom?” to which Nellie responded, “Yes?”
The love, pride, and relief simply radiated from their faces for all the world to see. They quite literally saved the lives of these children and that means so much more than any medal.
But how I wish there were two extra ones to adorn their necks!
Reach PAM STONE at firstname.lastname@example.org.