2008 Olympics were ringed by brilliance

The Summer Olympics are over. And in terms of goose bumps raised and TV ratings garnered, they were a rousing success.

For those of us who watched them most nights, our lives will now change back to the way they were before. Within a month, most of the past 17 days will fade from our memories.

It's always like that. The Olympics are like a dazzling, worldwide display of fireworks. They are spectacular while they last, but they are not part of the daily fabric of sports fans' lives like the local pro, college or high school teams are all over America.

For the athletes involved, however, it will be tougher to let go. Said U.S. women's gymnast Nastia Liukin, who won five medals in Beijing: “It's a little sad. You know we trained our entire lives for this moment, and then it just went by in a flash.”

Before we let that flash disappear entirely, let me guide you on one last look back at the Summer Olympics. There were some magnificent performances, including several by athletes from the Carolinas. There was also heartbreak and pain.

Looming over all of it was China – the most fascinating, complicated country I've ever visited. Its culture made an indelible impression on me and everyone else fortunate enough to be in Beijing for these Olympics.


MICHAEL PHELPS: The Michael Jordan of these Games. He won eight gold medals to break Mark Spitz's record, and he set or helped set world records in seven of them. His best individual performance: setting a world record in the 200 butterfly while basically swimming blind because his goggles had filled up with water.

USAIN BOLT: The Jamaican sprinter lived up to his “Lightning” nickname and struck three times, setting world records in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay. Watching him run was a thunderous pleasure. Said Bolt after his win in the 200 broke a 12-year-old world record: “I blew my mind, and I blew the world's mind.”

SHALANE FLANAGAN: She starred as a long-distance runner at North Carolina but wasn't expected to make a big impact in China since the African distance runners are generally so much better than the rest of the world. But Flanagan won a surprising bronze in the 10,000 meters. She said when it hurt the most during the race, she would think of her favorite running trails in North Carolina and pretend she was out there running under the trees.

MARTA: The Brazilian soccer star is so dazzling with the ball and so emotional that she can almost not quite, but almost – make you want to watch another 1-0 soccer game.

DREMIEL BYERS: It didn't work out for the Greco-Roman wrestler from Kings Mountain — he lost in the quarterfinals. But Byers was so honest about his struggle to get to the Olympics for the first time at age 33, and so blunt about his pain after he lost, that he made me like him more for his vulnerability.


Each morning I began my day going through security at my hotel before getting on a bus. It was pretty stringent. There were always four to six people working the security gate. Sometimes guys. Sometimes girls. Always young.

Every time I went through the security gate without making it beep, they would still run a metal-detecting wand over me. Front and back. It was just part of the routine.

So every day the guy would hit my belt. I usually wore my shirt untucked over shorts here, because the dress code was very casual for reporters. Every day I had to pull my shirt up to show him my belt.

One day the guy was wanding me and three young Chinese women – all of whom looked about 20 and were in uniform – were watching this procedure closely. They had nothing else to do, I guess.

So the male guard hit my belt with the metal wand. I pulled up my shirt as usual to show him there was no danger there … and realized my zipper was down.

All three Chinese girls were staring at me. The male security guard looked up at me with a strange look and motioned me onward.

I zipped up quickly and walked out fast.

In the background, I heard the musical laughter of the three female security guards.


Listed in alphabetical order, here's how 20 of the most notable U.S. athletes, coaches and teams with ties to the Carolinas did in the 2008 Olympics.

Ricky Berens; Swimming; Grew up in Charlotte; Gold; Helped set world record in the 4x200 relay;

Dremiel Byers; Wrestling; Grew up in Kings Mountain; None; Upset in Greco-Roman quarterfinals;

Shawn Crawford; Track; Grew up in S.C.; ran at Clemson; Silver; Finished 4th in actual race, but two other runners DQed;

Erin Donohue; Track; Went to UNC; None; Did not make final of 1,500;

Anne Donovan; Basketball coach; Lives in Charlotte; Gold; Led U.S. women's team to convincing championship;

Shalane Flanagan; Track; Went to UNC; Bronze; Won a surprising bronze in 10K; finished 10th in 5K;

Mark Gangloff; Swimming; Lives in Charlotte; Gold; Part of winning medley relay; 8th in 100 breaststroke;

George Hincapie; Cycling; Lives in Greenville S.C.; None; Finished 40th in road race;

Bershawn Jackson; Track; Lives in Raleigh; Bronze; “Batman” took third in the 400 hurdles;

Cullen Jones; Swimming; Lives in Charlotte; swam at N.C. State; Gold; Part of the 4x100 relay team that won dramatic race;

Mike Krzyzewski; Basketball coach; Head coach at Duke; Gold; Led U.S. team to eight straight Olympic wins and the title;

Caroline Lind; Rowing; Grew up in Greensboro; Gold; The daughter of former Duke basketball player Fred Lind;

LaShawn Merritt; Track; Went to East Carolina; Gold (2); Won both the 400 and 4x400 relay;

Travis Padgett; Track; From Shelby; attends Clemson; None; His teammates dropped the baton in 4x100 relay;

Chris Paul; Basketball; From Winston-Salem, went to Wake Forest; Gold; Shared point-guard duties for superb U.S. squad;

Shannon Rowbury; Track; Went to Duke; None; Made final in 1,500; finished seventh;

Rebecca Ward; Fencing; Rising freshman at Duke; Bronze (2); Won third in both individual and team sabre events;

Jesse Williams; Track; Grew up in Raleigh; None; Did not make final in high jump;

Women's soccer; 4 current, former UNC players; Gold; Edged Brazil 1-0 in overtime in the final;

Women's field hockey;6 UNC, 2 Wake Forest players; None; Finished in eighth place;