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Olympics were full of great sights, sounds

With one, gentle puff of air, a 10-year-old girl from Greece blew out the Olympic flame on Sunday night in Athens.
I know there are always some Scrooges in the media who don’t give a hoot about the Olympics, but I’m not one of them.
I love watching the spirit of competition and the efforts of (mostly) amateurs in the athletic arena.
Just like everyday sports, there are always lasting images, like Muhammed Ali’s knockout of Sonny Liston or Michael Jordan floating through the air in the slam dunk contest.
This year’s Games had plenty of those types of great images.
The first ‘ and my favorite of them all ‘ was watching and listening to the U.S. womens’ soccer team belting out the national anthem.
A double-overtime header by Abby Wambach gave the U.S. a 2-1 victory.
During the ceremony some players were laughing, some were crying and all were proud to be gold medal-winning Americans.
As bad as some of the gals sang, it was still one of the most beautiful and most poignant sounds I’ve ever heard at a sporting event.
When it came to sportsmanship, few could have done better than to match the dominating swimmer from America, Michael Phelps.
Phelps gave up his spot on a final relay team so that teammate Ian Crocker could race instead.
Phelps still won gold due to the team’s win (because he’d raced in the preliminaries), but the sacrifice showed why amateur sports will always outrank pro sports for me.
It’s time-honored tradition for retiring wrestlers to leave their shoes in the middle of the mat following their final match.
That’s exactly what nine-toed Rulon Gardner did after snaring the bronze medal in greco-roman wrestling.
Gardner, who shocked the world in the 2000 games when he defeated three-time Olympic champion Alexander Karelin, unlaced his shoes, gave a few waves and stepped away at the top of his game.
Devastated by losses at the games in Atlanta and Sydney, Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj finally won gold in the 1,500 run.
What made the moment so special wasn’t his reaction, but the reaction of his competitors, who were genuinely happy for their adversary.
Another lasting memorable moment was watching Lisa Fernandez power (and that’s an understatement) the U.S. softballers to their gold medal.
I met Fernandez in New Albany several years ago while she was giving a softball clinic. Not only did I get my obligatory autograph (on a photo of her that I’d taken), but I also got to hold the gold medal that she’d won with the team in Atlanta in 1996.
All Fernandez did in Athens was go 3-0 with a .029 ERA and hit an Olympics-high .545 at the plate.
The one run she gave up in the gold medal game was the only run the U.S. allowed through the Olympics.
Outside of the athletic arena, the Parthenon, sitting majestically atop the Acropolis, is a site they could have shown a million times and it would have never gotten old.
Another excellent idea was the use of the olive wreaths for the medal winners.
Seeing all-around womens’ gymnastics winner Carly Patterson, 16, with an oversized wreath on her head was just too cute.
Athens passed the torch off to Beijing, which will host the 2008 Summer Games. The Chinese will have a tough act to follow.