Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thank you London!

"How," they asked -- cab drivers, waiters, the man in the cue at Pret -- "can we possibly compete with Beijing?"

That worry -- along with traffic and terrorism and tickets -- seemed to be the biggest concern of the Brits before the Games began. Beijing had been flashy, staged with an unlimited budget. How would they ever top it?

By being themselves, that's how. By being British and welcoming and funny. By keeping calm and carrying on. By loving sports with a rich, wild, self-amused fervor.

There was no Bird's Nest or Watercube here. The actual Olympic Park wasn't much to look at and will probably be dissembled like a five-year-old's Lego structure in a matter of months. However, the rest of the city, a place of towers and bridges and palaces and history around every corner -- certainly was something to look at. The beauty of the bike race and marathon, Big Ben peeking over the beach volleyball -- that topped anything they built in Beijing.

The Olympics isn't about fancy venues. Most of them become white elephants anyway. It's about tapping into the soul and passion of a country, about a love of sports and a welcome to the world.

And that's how London topped Beijing. -- Ann Killion

By winning gold in the 200-meter butterfly, Chad Le Clos of South Africa ensured that Michael Phelps's record-tying 18th Olympic medal would be a silver. More than that, though, this event gave us a glimpse into two quite wonderful and very Olympic things: The power of a champion to inspire, and Phelps' human side. Le Clos had grown up idolizing Phelps -- he and his coach had watched thousands of hours of tape of Phelps in competition and the South African had been motivated to win his gold at the 2010 Olympic Youth Games in Singapore as a result of Phelps' appearance there as an "athlete ambassador" -- and now, in the adjacent lane, Le Clos had a chance to match Phelps stroke for stroke. After he did -- and out-touched Phelps at the finish -- we got the payoff: a chance to see Phelps escort Le Clos through the medal-ceremony protocol, show him how to pose for the cameras, etc. We'd gotten so accustomed to seeing Phelps as a winner, it was good to see humility and grace when he fell just short. -- Alex Wolff

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