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Olympics give hope to young athletes

It was just four short years ago that the United States — and the world — watched in awe as Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal.

Phelps, along with teammates Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen and Jason Lezak, were competing in the men’s 4×100-meter medley relay on Aug. 17, 2008. Phelps’ portion was the 100-meter butterfly leg, and he was actually trailing to Japan and Australia at the time his leg started.

But Phelps set a world record by completing his leg in 50.1 seconds, the fastest time ever recorded for the butterfly split in the 4×100-meter medley relay. This gave teammate Jason Lezak a lead going into his leg, which Lezak would maintain, securing the U.S.’s victory and Phelps’ eighth gold medal.

Americans wore Phelps’ and the U.S. team’s accomplishments as a badge of pride, and images from Phelps’ accomplishments served as inspiration and motivation for both athletes and non-athletes.

Every four years, sports and country pride collide to culminate in the most anticipated sporting event in the entire world. The Olympic Games can be traced back to Ancient Greece, and the modern-day version brings much discussion, from where the games are hosted to which country will bring home the most gold medals.

Phelps’ accomplishments in 2008 are far from the only moments of pride American has seen in the Olympic games over the years. Who could forget the Miracle on Ice in the 1980 Winter Olympics, voted by Sports Illustrated as the top sports moment of the 20th century?

The Soviet Union entered its game against the United State having won the gold medal in ice hockey every year since 1964. No one gave the Americans much of a chance against this Goliath, but David would have his way this go-around.

After a 2-2 tie at the end of the first period, the USSR took a 3-2 lead in the second period. The miracle began in the third period, with Mark Johnson scoring during a power play, and Mike Eruzione hit the go-ahead shot with 10 minutes left to give the U.S. a 4-3 lead.

The Soviets were unable to score in the final 10 minutes, giving the Americans the most unlikely of victories. Twenty-two years later, the Miracle on Ice story still resonates within the hearts of Americans.

There’s also the 1992 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, also known as the “Dream Team.” Widely considered the greatest sports team ever assembled, it included household names like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley.

To call the Dream Team dominant would be an understatement. Their gold medal game against Croatia, a 117-85 win, was the closest anyone got to the Dream Team in scoring. On average, opponents lost by more than 40 points a game.

Although no athlete from Natchez has ever competed in the Olympics, the stories that come from these games are a reminder to athletes that dreams are worth pursuing. Whether it’s one day winning eight gold medals or simply winning a state championship, the Olympics can serve as fuel to the flame inside an athlete’s heart.

Let’s hope that more history is made in London.


Michael Kerekes is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3632 or michael.kerekes@natchezdemocrat.com.