The special moments borne of mediocrity

THESE Olympics have reminded us why it’s the greatest show on earth.

Spectacular success stories share the limelight with epic tales of shattered dreams, leaving viewers riding an emotional rollercoasters with the athletes.

Australians celebrated with the likes of gold medal wonder women Sally Pearson and Anna Meares.

We suddenly loved names we’d never heard before such as Tate Smith, Dave Smith, Murray Stewart and Jacob Clear who delivered unexpected gold in the men’s kayak four 1000-metre event.

We shared the pain of heartbreaking performances as some of our athletes learned their expectations did in fact outweigh their capabilities. 

We got angry as people got stupid in attacking the size of one of our true darlings of the pool in Liesel Jones.

And we shared the frustration as James Magnussen battled those mind demons that saw him walk away from an Olympics that promised so much with nothing but memories.

It’s amazing how a single moment at the Olympics can seemingly erase a lifetime of achievement for an athlete or provide instant recognition for years of hard work and sacrifice that have largely gone unnoticed.

But for all the greatness that is the Olympics, the truly special moments that epitomise the genuine heart of why these games are special arrive through mediocrity.

The world will never forget Equatorial Guinea swimmer Eric “the Eel” Moussambani who ventured to Sydney 2000 from a country that didn’t have a pool.

His time for the 100-metre freestyle was slower than the 200-metre world record but the cheer he received on finishing was equal to any at the meet.

London 2012 has been blessed with “Eric the Eel” moments.

Runner Sarah Attar become Saudi Arabia’s first female track athlete – gaining permission to run the 800 metres in June after the Saudi Olympic Committee ruled women could compete.

Sarah wore her bright lime-green top, long black pants and white hijab with pride and the crowd responded – greeting each of the 45 seconds she eventually finished behind the heat winner with a standing ovation and thunderous cheers. 

Sarah later declared her Olympic appearance “an honour” and hoped it would inspire others to chase their dreams.

The 800 metres must have been the place for such moments.

Turkish runner Merve Aydin suffered a serious injury early in her heat but limped the rest of the journey through a flood of tears to the finish line.

There would be no gold medal for Aydin but in time you hope she comes to appreciate her enormous achievement and takes heart from the experience of having an 80,000-strong crowd cheering for no one but her through that entire painful journey.

True success at the Olympics is measured in gold, silver and bronze but for many athletes, those who dare only dream of such glory, the pass mark arrives in the form of a time broadcast to the world via the bright lights of a scoreboard.

One such moment was delivered by Yanet Seyoum – Ethiopia’s first Olympic swimmer who prepared for the games in a hotel swimming pool using hand-written notes from a coach living afar.

She finished last in her heat of the 50-metre freestyle – eight seconds behind the fastest qualifier Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands.

But her time of 32.41 seconds was a personal best and for a majority of the athletes this is what the Olympics is all about – beating yourself.

So while Usain Bolt will carry on for the next four years soaking up the adulation that comes with his superhuman feats on the athletics track, Sarah, Merve and Yanet will slip back largely into anonymity beyond the borders of their own respective countries, where you would hope they are hailed as heroes.

As for the rest of the world, well, we wait for Rio De Janeiro and the next installment of the greatest show on earth... exactly 1455 days to go.