COMMENTARY: Go Team
Now that two weeks have passed since the Olympic torch was extinguished in Beijing, the fervor of the Olympiad’s 17 days is beginning to fade from memory. Of the sheer volume of feats that were accomplished throughout the games, only a few things will be left emblazoned in our minds as time goes by.
We will remember Michael Phelps’ seemingly perpetual world record pace in the swimming pool as he surpassed Mark Spitz’s revered mark of seven gold medals in one Olympic Games. We will remember Usain Bolt’s showboating over the final 15 meters of the fastest 100-meter sprint in history. And we will not soon forget the graceful tumbles and flips of the United States’ two gold-medal gymnasts, Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson.
In every Olympics, individual achievements are what are celebrated the most and thus remembered best. There is something about the solo performance, being able to see how they perform with nothing else to rely on, with nowhere to find comfort but within themselves as their every move is watched, that captures us so completely. But because of this, some of the most compelling moments in this year’s games will not be remembered. We should not forget those medals that were captured — or lost — by a team effort.
We should not forget those magical 50 meters when Phelps’ quest for Olympic greatness rested squarely on teammate Jason Lezak, a relative dinosaur in the swimming world at the age of 32. Phelps led the cheers as Lezak made up an entire body length’s worth of a deficit behind French 100-meter freestyle world record holder Alain Bernard in the final leg of the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. The image of Phelps and his other two teammates turning into cheerleaders as they watched the most improbable comeback in Olympic history is one of the most indelible images from these games.
We should not forget the U.S. women’s soccer team, shorthanded the entire tournament without leading scorer Abby Wambach and expert defender Cat Whitehill. The women’s team banded together and, against all odds on a muddy field and against a Brazilian team that thoroughly outclassed them in every respect but the scoreboard, the American team snuck in a goal during overtime to win the gold with a score of 1–0.
We should not forget the U.S. men’s basketball team, tagged the “Redeem Team,” who learned to play unselfishly and actually took the time to adapt to international play to help bring the gold medal back to America.
We should not forget the U.S. men’s gymnastics team surprisingly winning bronze despite losing both superstar Hamm twins, Morgan and Paul, to injury. Or the women’s gymnastics team, which graciously (the gymnasts at least) accepted silver despite reports of their Chinese competitors being underage, while lending emotional support to teammate Alicia Sacramone after she faltered in the final two events of the competition.
We should not forget Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh surviving Wang Jie and Tian Jia in the pouring rain to capture their second consecutive gold medal in women’s beach volleyball.
We should not forget the Japanese softball team, which had the upset of the games by stunning the seemingly indestructible United States team 3–1 in the gold medal game.
The summer Olympics is known for being the stage upon which the fastest, strongest, most agile athletes are determined. But in the background, it is also where new relationships are formed.
The Olympics is one of the few arenas in which the best athletes not only compete against each other but also interact with one another. The emotional bonds that are made and put on display during the competition are an extra treat for both the athletes competing and the fans watching, and underscore the friendly nationalism that only the Olympics can support. And while individual sports usually captivate viewers around the world during the Olympics, let it be remembered that in Beijing, it was the teams that stole the show this time.