Thrills, Spills and Agony in Summer Olympics

The Summer Olympics in Rio aren't even a quarter of the way over, but already we've seen exhilarating highs, heartbreaking lows, and agonizing defeats.

The first three days of the Olympics have reaffirmed this: for 17 days every four years, the spirit of unified nations, athletes and fans alike, is alive and well in the world.

Gone from my Facebook feed are the scathing, unrelenting political posts that have dominated social media over the past six months. They appear sporadically but have fallen to the wayside for the most part.

These stories have been replaced with stories like Katie Ledecky, the United States swimmer who shattered the world record in the women's 400-meter freestyle. Ledecky is also expected to come home with a Michael Phelpsian haul of medals.

Speaking of Mr. Phelps, the most-decorated of American swimmers added to his loot on Sunday night. He swam the second leg of the U.S. men's gold medal winning 4x100-meter freestyle relay team. 

Phelps now has 19 career-gold medals in the Olympics and 23 total Olympic medals to his name, a number that should be added to by these Olympics' end.

The stories don't stop in the pool. In the individual foil, Alexander Massialas came back from a 14-8 deficit in the quarterfinals, reeling off seven straight points for the victory. His run would end in the finals, but silver was his, narrowly missing out on winning the first gold for American men in the sport since 1904.

The United States basketball teams are dominating, as is the gymnastics team (at least on the women's side). In the qualifying round, the women were so good that the Americans had the three highest individual all-around scores, but alas only the top-2 move through to the finals.

Speaking of gymnasts, there is the 41-year old Oksana Chusovitina, who is competing in her seventh Olympic games. She has Olympic medals older than many of her competitors and will be looking for another when she competes in the vault finals later this week.

This is the beauty and sorrow of the Olympic games. These athletes do it not only for prestige but for the love of their country. Their talent, their passion for their respective sport(s) are the same reasons fans cheer when the athlete/team wins, deflated when they lose, and gasp at misfortune, holding their breath--like the world class swimmers reaching for the wall--for seconds on end.

It is Gabby Douglas, the defending Olympic champion, that was left on the outside looking in for the women's all-around final. She has most likely a gold medal in her future in the team competition (fingers crossed) and a shot and individual medal in the uneven bars.

For all of the elation, it can be the heartbreak of an athlete that really draws us in. It is the fourth-place finish, the unexpected injury, the inevitable run of an underdog simply to fall short in the final.

There is the male gymnast from France, Samir Ait Said, that shattered his leg in a horrific fall that was could be heard around the arena and living rooms around the world.

Or in the women's cycling road race, in which two women suffered the agony of defeat in two completely different ways.

The first was a scary crash down the final descent of the race. A crash in which Annemiek van Vlueten of Netherlands rounded a corner and lost control of her bike. She flipped onto the high curb on the side of the road and landed directly on her back, leaving viewers silenced, hands cupped over mouths at the intensity of the wreck. 

Even as American Mara Abbott took over first-place, the injured biker was still on many people's minds, most likely including Abbott. After making quite the move during the climb, Abbot's descent was somewhat conservative--rightfully so--a move that may have cost her a spot on the medal stand. To see a lead slip away with the finish line in sight, to see Abbott give her all only to be completely drained, brought rise to the conflicting emotions that are so prevalent in Olympic games.

And this has only been a taste. A little under two weeks remain in these games, leaving athletes and fans alike to run a gamut of emotions. We will see stars rise, heroes fall and human stories--like the team of refugees-that transcend the competition itself, bringing sobering moments to those near and far.

And for fans of the Olympics, myself included, we wouldn't have it any other way.


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