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Monday, Oct 23, 2017
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Olympic dreams lighting way as Games approach

We climb back into the rings this week. This Friday, athletes from across the world come together for the Summer Olympics. I can hardly wait to see our American team march into the stadium in their Made in China uniforms. Yes, the Olympics are overblown. Yes, they are too commercial. And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, I will watch synchronized swimming if Kate and Pippa are entered. The Olympics are an ancient Greek messenger running 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated, then collapsing and dying. Oh, that social media.
The Olympics are Jesse Owens at Berlin in 1936. The Olympics are Michael Phelps churning through the water, Kerri Strug on one leg, Wilma Rudolph on two. True, the Olympics are also Munich, a masked man on a balcony, 40 years ago. But the Olympics, when you cut through everything, are about dreams. Some come true, some don't. And for 16 days, we'll be glued to some of them. Speaking of which, Nastia Liukin, who outlasted teammate and Olympic Village roommate Shawn Johnson to become the 2008 women's all-around gymnastics gold medalist in Beijing, was in the Tampa earlier this week. Liukin, now 22, was touring local gymnastics clubs to promote an exhibition at the Forum this October, featuring Olympians past and present. Liukin won't participate in these Olympics, but will be an athlete representative for the Federation of International Gymnasts. Four years ago, her dream came true _ and we mean dream. Let Nastia Liukin tell you: "To me, the Olympic spirit is all about representing your country, having that proud feeling, pride and courage, before thousands of people there, but millions of people back home. That's what I remember from Beijing, trying to make people proud, no matter what happened. "So many different emotions are going through your mind in that moment. At the moment, it's just so surreal. That could not have happened to me. For 18 years, since I knew what the word Olympics meant, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to stand on top of that podium after the all-around finals. "The night before, I had a dream. And I never have dreams before my competitions. I never really dream about gymnastics. But I had this dream I was wearing the pink leotard and it was the all-around final. In my dream, I stuck my vault. I've never stuck my vault in any other competition the way I did in the Olympics." "Then I went to bars. And I made my dismount. I went to beam and hit my dismount. I finished my floor and I was going down the steps and I gave my dad a hug. "And as I give him a hug, I wake up … and I turn over and I see Shawn (Johnson) sleeping. I'm like, 'That was just a dream _ great.' It felt so real. I remember I looked at the clock. It was 5 something and we had to be up at 6. "The all-around final was at 8 in the morning, so it would be live back home. It was very weird,. I walked into the warm-up gym and my dad, he can sense my facial reactions. I'd never looked so calm. It was like I was out of it. I didn't even know I was there. Then we marched out. As soon as I stuck my vault the way I did in my dream … After I stuck that vault, I kind of knew. "I remember giving my dad a hug and thinking, 'Gosh, I really hope this is real this time.'" Nastia Liukin tried to make the U.S. team for another Olympics, but she fell on her face at the trials, literally, crashing during her routine on the uneven bars. It finished her. She was done. But she got up and finished her routine, and then the competition, with class and dignity. "I think that's what was most important to me," Liukin said. "That's something my parents taught me at an early age, that you might not always be able to achieve want you want to achieve, but it's important to get yourself back up, no matter how hard or painful it might be." That's the Olympic spirit, too. It's time to climb back in the rings.
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