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Friday, July 27, 2012

ODDS AND EVENS

London will launch dreams for millions


LONDON — You can't put a price tag on dreams. And that alone has created worldwide fascination for the Olympics for decades now.

Ed Odeven

Yes, of course, you can rattle off a hundred different examples of how the Olympics are about big business and outrageous amounts of money.

But this much is certain: More than its bloated commercialism, the Olympics have a unique place in modern society.

And for two-plus weeks, inspiring stories are everywhere; the athletes and the coaches are living a dream, and igniting the spark that gives millions of others, young and old, something special to aspire for in every corner of the globe — from East London to East Timor, from Minato Ward, Tokyo, to small prairie towns in Minnesota, from the Sahara Desert to the Sydney Harbor.

(To be at the Olympics to chronicle their daily activities, too, is a dream come true. I can also say the same thing about my 21 days in Beijing in August 2008.)

High-stakes competition is a wonderful thing, and more than 10,000 athletes will raise their heartbeats and the collective pulses of a few billion spectators worldwide in sporting arenas (Wimbledon, Wembley Stadium, Lord's Cricket Ground, Earls Court, etc.) and water locales (Weymouth and Portland, for instance, for sailing).

London, in the planning stages for the 2012 Summer Games since 2005, will be the center of the universe until mid-August. Wherever you look, in the British capital there are reminders of that. Those wearing uniforms for India, China, the United States and, naturally, the United Kingdom, as well as the tiniest of nations will have the greatest spotlight.

Unless there's a natural disaster, widespread famine, a health epidemic or political upheaval, how often does the community of nations pay attention to a place like Micronesia?

Once every four years.

Thankfully, it's only two more years until the next Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia.

Growing up as a sports fanatic, the first time I found out that the Summer and Winter Games were held in the same year was a grand revelation; let's just say I consider it a perfect 10 on the 1-to-10 scale of good news. "Twice in the same years! Awesome," I remember saying more than once.

So when the IOC decided to split the two Olympiads into separate years — the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games and '96 Atlanta Olympics — that quadrennial information overload changed. Life continued, and we adjusted to the major changes in the Olympic schedule.

After Friday's opening ceremony, the focus, thankfully, shifts to the athletes. Great individual rivals — U.S. swimmers Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, for instance — will capture our attention; team showdowns, too — the Argentina-U.S. men's basketball showdown should be a compelling clash. And don't forget about Jamaican sprinters Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt.

The same is true in men's gymnastics, where Japan, led by three-time world champion Kohei Uchimura, and Russia, China and the United States vie for supremacy.

Incidentally, someone with far more sophisticated math skills than I will keep track of these sort of things — that is, the 4,700 medals will be awarded at the London Games. They are secured in the vaults at the Tower of London.

Some athletes have been in the public eye much longer than others. Or sit atop a nice, neat list in a fancy office. As the London Evening Standard reported, 10-km open-water swimmer Keri-Anne Payne was the first athlete (there are 542 in total) to earn a spot on Team Great Britain.

Here's the best way I can explain the task at hand: Reporting on the Summer Games is a thrilling, tiring challenge, and sometimes it is far from easy to walk away from the keyboard or take a break.

The global sports extravaganza provides a dazzling smorgasbord of story topics, photo opportunities and interviews, while the byline that appears at the top of a story includes something that came from a mesmerizing range of options to write about.

But really, what does all this boil down to in its purest sense?

Sporting legends being created or their legacies expanded, and the spark that ignites people emulating greatness, generation after generation.

From the young athletes from Bekoji, Ethiopia, highlighted in the new thoughtful documentary "Town of Runners," that I watched somewhere near the Arctic Circle en route to London Mayor Boris Johnson's proud city to Japan's Olympians from Tohoku, people rally around those in pursuit of sporting achievements.

Or as 2012 London Olympics chief Sebastian Coe said in a story prominently featured in Tuesday's Daily Mail, "Getting the games for London has been the fulfillment of a dream. It is one which I truly believe can change the lives of hundreds of thousands of youths for the better . . ."

Here we go again.

Finally.

P.S. I don't know anybody named Wenlock or Mandeville, but odds are a baby born in the next five or so years will have one of those quirky names, as the official London mascots endear themselves to someone, somewhere.

Editor's note: Staff writer Ed Odeven's Olympic reporting and commentary will include web-exclusive material on The Japan Times' website.



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