BNN: Western athletes shine in Olympic Games



David Cassilo

In an Olympic Games that opened with controversy, the memories that came from the 16 days in Beijing will be not of pollution and scandal but rather of the incredible feats achieved by those athletes who shined in the Far East. While these Olympics may be remembered as the games that introduced China to the world as the newest superpower in athletics, it was the accomplishments by those in the Western hemisphere that gave these games their identity.


In the days leading up to the Olympics, the question being asked incessantly was whether Michael Phelps could win eight gold medals in Beijing, thus surpassing the single Olympic Games record of seven, set by fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz in 1972. After cruising to a world record in the 400-meter individual medley, Phelps and his fellow American swimmers gave the audience a drama-filled come-from-behind victory to beat France and set a world record in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. Phelps then cruised to victories and world records in the 200-meter freestyle, the 200-meter butterfly, the 4×200-meter freestyle relay and the 200-meter individual medley. In the race to tie Spitz for seven gold medals, Phelps provided an epic finish as he came from behind to win the 100-meter butterfly by 0.01 seconds. The day after that exciting finish, he cemented his legacy as the Americans won the 4×100-meter medley relay in a world record time. Phelps went eight-for-eight in Beijing and became the gold standard for every Olympian.


Until 2004, the United States had won the gold medal for basketball in every Olympics it had used professional players. Then in Athens the team lost to Argentina in the semifinal and managed only to claim bronze. Since those games, the United States looked to reshape its basketball program in an effort to once again establish American dominance similar to the original Dream Team in 1992. Dubbed the “Redeem Team,” the United States was led by Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski and featured a roster full of the best NBA stars, headlined by Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Byrant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. The team dominated group play by outscoring its five opponents by a combined 161 points. In the quarterfinals, it downed Australia 116-85, and in the semifinals, the team avenged its loss to 2004 gold medalist Argentina with a 101-81 victory. The gold medal game was the United States’ second of the Olympics against Spain, but unlike the first, this proved to be a grueling, evenly matched contest. Spain got as close as two points late in the fourth quarter but could never catch the high-powered Americans. In the end, the United States reclaimed the gold medal with a 118-107 victory, and the redemption they yearned for after last Games’ disappointment was theirs.


While Americans watched their own Olympic team falter on the track, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt became the country’s adoptive favorite son as he dazzled audiences with his inhuman speed. Bolt participated in three events in Beijing and won them all. First in the 100-meter run, Bolt not only destroyed the competition en route to victory, but was able to set a new world record of 9.69 seconds, despite easing up to celebrate as he crossed the finished line. Later in the 200-meter run, Bolt once again won the race and set a world record with a time of 19.30 seconds. The Jamaican became the first sprinter ever to set the world record in the 100-meter and 200-meter runs in the same Olympics. Bolt put the finishing touches on arguably the best Olympics ever for a sprinter when he and his teammates cruised to victory in the 4×100-meter relay with a world record time of 37.10 seconds. In a sport that had been mired by steroids and scandal for over a decade, Bolt was able to rejuvenate the sport and presumably give credibility to the title of “World’s Fastest Man.”



Perhaps the most interesting storylines of these Olympics came from inside Beijing National Indoor Stadium where the women’s gymnastics competition took place. It was here where the 2008 version of “America’s Sweethearts” was born as the world watched 18-year-old Nastia Liukin and 16-year-old Shawn Johnson try to bring the United States the gold medal.

Liukin showed why she was the face of the team when she took first in the individual all-around, while Johnson earned the gold on the balance beam. However, the Americans’ performances were only half the story of the gymnastics competition, as questions about the Chinese national team began to dominate the headlines. Although when initially submitted, the International Olympic Committee accepted the Chinese roster, they decided to investigate whether all of the athletes were at least 16 years old, the minimum age to compete.

The investigation is ongoing and may take some time to complete. One of the girls in question, Ha Kexin, also was involved in a questionable decision in the uneven bars competition where she defeated Liukin in a tiebreaker. With a final resolution yet to be determined, it is certain that the Olympics will be making news long after the closing ceremonies.