34.9 million people (including most of Jamaica) watched on Monday night as Usain Bolt claimed track and field legend at the Olympics by winning the Men’s 100m. It was Bolt’s third straight gold medal in the event; remarkable considering he is eight years older now than when he won it the first time. Like Michael Phelps and swimming, the hype leading up to Bolt’s latest victory was justified. NBC covered every one of Bolt’s qualifying heats in prime-time, and delivered a good twenty minutes of back story before the final. Bolt will be a household name if he is not already.
The 100m run is one of several Olympic events I never miss. It is a wondrous display of athletic power, and I’m always on edge to see who will become the “world’s fastest human”. However, the prime-time Olympic spotlight need also shine on lesser known events and athletes. Herein lies the oft-overlooked beauty of the Olympics: it is these “others” that emerge with the most inspiring stories. They are not so much superstars, yet are still among the best at what they do. A few examples for your consideration:
Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain rode to a gold-medal performance in Individual Dressage. Show Jumping may be the more popular Olympic equestrian event but Dressage is the more difficult (and defined as “the highest expression of horse training). Dujardin and her Dutch Warmblood horse “Valegro” floated through an almost magical routine, completing one spectacular movement after another. Dujardin and her mount were graceful, elegant, and significantly better – at least on points – than the silver medalist. And her story became even more poignant when I learned Dujardin was engaged to be married shortly after receiving the gold medal, while Valegro has earned his last championship (of many) and will be retired from the sport.
Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands leaped to a gold-medal win on the balance beam in Women’s Gymnastics. It was the first women’s gymnastics medal of any kind in her country’s history. Wevers’ routine featured several jaw-dropping maneuvers I’d never seen before, including several spins while balanced precariously on one foot. The judges were won over by Wever’s creativity and skill. American television tried desperately to keep the spotlight on our own athletes (who were favored to win), but Wevers was clearly the humble star this night. And her story was made even more poignant when the cameras turned to her twin sister Leika in the stands – also a member of the Dutch gymnastics team – as she reacted to Sanne’s upset win with tears of disbelief.
Molly Huddle of the United States ran what should have been a gold-medal performance in the Women’s 10,000m run. Except she didn’t win the gold medal. When a group of eight women broke away from the pack after several laps – most of them Kenyans and Ethiopians – Huddle broke away with them. After twenty-five laps Huddle crossed the finish line in sixth place, breaking the American record for the event by almost nine seconds. And her story was made even more poignant when I learned Huddle’s finishing time would have been good enough for the gold medal in three of the last four Olympics.
The Games continue for several more days. More superstars will be at their best on prime-time television. Just remember to look around and see what else is going on. There are wonderful stories just beyond the spotlight.