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The Olympics give us reason to hope

Natalie du ToitIf you’re like most people, you didn’t watch enough of the Beijing Olympics, partly because there were just too many events happening at the same time and partly because, having a full-time job, you had to spend a little time every morning coughing into the phone.
Considering everything that happened at the Olympics, I probably watched only one percent of the action. I completely missed the badminton and table tennis competition — they must have been on TV while I was asleep — and I caught only a little of the rhythmic dancing (Usain Bolt sure knows how to shake it). But I did watch quite a bit of the Jamaican sprint events, as well as the tiny tot gymnastics and the always-popular bikini show (disguised brilliantly as beach volleyball). And I got a thrill out of watching swimmer Michael Phelps make Olympic history, winning eight gold medals and setting a world record for total amount of chest exposure on TV. (Eat your heart out, Janet Jackson.)
These Olympics certainly left us with many unforgettable moments, starting with the spectacular opening ceremony that mesmerized people all over the world, even causing one family in West Virginia to pose for photographs next to their TV screen. I don’t know about you, but I won’t soon forget the awesome fireworks display, almost too amazing to be true, as well as that cute little girl who did a fabulous job of lip-synching.
Perhaps the most impressive performance at the Olympics belonged to Phelps, who left viewers around the world shaking their heads and asking one question: “How does he do it?” Americans wondered how he manages to break so many world records, while Germans and Russians wondered how he manages to pass all his drug tests.
Some experts debated endlessly whether Phelps is the greatest Olympian ever. As for me, I just had to watch a few of his races to realize that he’s the greatest athlete to ever compete in the Olympics wearing Speedos.
Bolt does not wear Speedos, but he’s extremely speedy. So speedy, in fact, that he broke the world record in the 100m dash, despite taking a break in the middle to eat some Jamaican jerk chicken. It happened so fast that only sharp-eyed IOC president Jacques Rogge noticed it and made a big issue of the Jamaican jerk.
Bolt and Phelps were phenomenal, but so was Natalie du Toit, the South African swimmer. Du Toit had her left leg amputated at the knee in 2001 after a scooter accident, but kept competing and became the first female amputee to ever qualify for the Olympics. She finished 16th among 24 swimmers in the 10km marathon, ahead of eight swimmers and only about 80 seconds behind the winner. Just imagine what a difference another leg would have made. Yes, those eight swimmers might have beaten her with three.
Du Toit didn’t win a medal, but she inspired many people and was part of a great showing by African athletes, who won 40 medals, a record for the continent. Most of the medals came in running, but if you don’t think Africans can attack the water as aggressively as Phelps, you should have seen the Kenyans after the marathon. You should have also seen Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli, who won a gold medal in 1500m freestyle, and Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry, who won one gold and three silver, causing people in her homeland to name another cluster of babies after her: Backstroke Banda, Goldmedal Gondwe and Swimwell Sakala.
India won three medals in Beijing, including Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal in shooting. I’m most proud of the bronze medal that boxer Vijender Kumar won. I never thought an Indian would bring home a medal in boxing, not without breaking into the Cuban hotel rooms. But Vijender did it, and thanks to him, I can finally walk into a boxing gym, put on a pair of gloves and step into the ring, believing that I might be able to hold my own for a few minutes, at least until the other fighter shows up.
That’s what the Olympics do — they give us hope. Hope that we can be like Phelps or Bolt or Kumar. Hope that we can make the most of our abilities, like du Toit. Hope that even if we’re short on talent, we can lip-synch our way to fame.

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