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The real reality begins at Olympics

As the politicians droned on the television, one woman checked out the condition of her fingernail polish. Her partner stared out the window. Sitting across the room, another man flipped the pages of a year-old magazine. Boredom was the mood of the morning in the waiting room.

Then those familiar trumpets from the Olympic Anthem blared from the speakers. All eyes shifted, including my own Thursday morning.

The games haven’t begun and still every person in the doctor’s office sat fixated as “Today Show” weatherman Al Roker took his turn in the control room of London’s Tower Bridge flipping the switch to raise the drawbridge over the Thames River.

What is it about just the idea of the Olympics that causes heads to turn? Why will an audience of more than 4 billion people watch sports in 16 days they didn’t care about the previous 1,444?

Today, thousands of athletes from around the world will enter London Stadium to a packed house of fans and hundreds of millions of viewers watching on television. For two weeks and two days, millions will cheer for athletes we know little about. Even household names like Michael Phelps will fade into memory shortly after the London Games are over.

The Olympics are the original — maybe the ultimate — reality show. Unlike “The Amazing Race” and “Survivor,” the characters and stories that are the essence of the Olympics are worth caring about.

These characters and stories combined with national pride make for 16 magical days.

I still recall cheering from my grandfather’s lap in Carrollton, Ala., as the USA hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in Lake Placid, N.Y. I don’t know who was the most excited that evening — my grandfather or me.

Twenty-eight years later, I was cheering in Natchez as the U.S. came from behind to snatch the gold medal from the French in the 4×100 freestyle relay.

I remember watching awestruck as Mary Decker fell to the ground in Los Angeles after she was expected to win the gold medal in the 3,000 meter run in 1984.

It is the connection and pride of country that make the victories sweeter and make the tragedies even more compelling.

For two weeks, we will learn about all of these athletes who have trained in relative anonymity and who more than likely return to anonymity when the games are over. After all, how many of the U.S. gold medalists in the Beijing Olympics can you name?

Their obscurity doesn’t make their stories any less captivating. Many of the athletes have experienced triumph and overcome injuries and personal tragedy to perform on their sports’ highest stage,

As much as we enjoy the victories, it is the competition that makes each and every story compelling.

Every trip, stumble and mistake brings gasps during this fortnight of events,

When athletes like Greg Louganis, who hit his head on the diving board in 1998, or Kerri Strug, who injured her ankle in the last round of gymnastics in 1996, overcome adversity to win gold, the gasps turn into overwhelming pride and joy.

There is no doubt in my mind that there will be equally compelling stories in London this year. Like most of those classic Olympic moments, one never knows when and in what sport those captivating moments will happen. The only way to know is to watch.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.