As I cover stories from the Beijing Olympic Games, I am reminded of Confucian anecdote that says if one walks with other people one can always find one’s teacher.
That is because I thought I could find more than 10,000 teachers during the Games.
Every day I feel moved and excited, and every moment I learn something new.
All the athletes who have worked hard preparing for the Olympic Games are my teachers.
American swimmer Michael Phelps is aiming to become the first athlete to win eight gold medals at one Olympic Games.
In every race he swims, he sets a world record and gets gold.
What was most impressive so far was the 400-meter freestyle relay.
As four swimmers take part in the relay, even the best swimmer isn’t guaranteed a gold.
With only 50 meters to go, the American team was behind France.
But in the last part, Jason Lezak made up lost ground for a dramatic comeback victory.
Phelps roared loud as his teammate won gold for his country, and the media roared too, conveying the achievement of the athletes.
Lezak must have been thankful for his teammate cheering him on. Watching Phelps roar like that, I thought about the meaning of companionship once again.
Park Tae-hwan won a gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle followed by a silver medal in the 200-meter freestyle.
In a moment, this young man changed the face of the sport of swimming in Korea.
Park said he felt honored just to compete against Phelps, even though Park himself is a gold medalist.
This shows his respect for the world’s best and reveals his modesty.
Despite his age, Park taught us all something about perspective and humility.
We have also learned that it is hard even for the best to remain at the top, and that even if you’re good, you’ve got to lose if someone else is better.
Just look at the women’s archery. Korea failed to win a gold medal in the women’s individual competition this time, but before this final, Korea had won gold medals over five consecutive days.
Choi Min-ho in judo and Jin Jong-oh in one of the pistol competitions earned gold medals, performing better than people expected.
The result of women’s archery was even more shocking because we were certain that a Korean woman archer would get gold. Meanwhile, not many could expect that China’s Zhang Juan Juan would do so well.
After losing to the Chinese archer, Park Sung-hyun blamed herself instead of blaming the Chinese audience who tried to disrupt her. From her, we learn the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship.
Male weightlifter Lee Bae-young in the 69-kilogram class moved the whole world. His leg cramped in his first clean and jerk attempt, but he refused to quit. He poked his leg with a needle dozens of times and continued his challenge. After he refused to quit, despite his obvious agony, the audience stood up and applauded.
“I don’t think I came last in the competition because I did my best, and I’m grateful for the Chinese fans who cheered me on.”
His story is a lesson in maturity.
Natalia Partyka, a Polish table tennis player, was born with a right arm that ends below the elbow. She participated in the Beijing Olympic Games and competed against able-bodied athletes. The Pole almost beat Hong Kong’s Tie Yana, who is ranked 10th in the world.
Regardless of the result, watching Partyka serve using her right elbow and play with her left hand, we witnessed another case of a human pushing herself to the limits of performance.
Ara Abrahamian, a Swedish wrestler who won a bronze medal in the 84-kilogram Greco-Roman, did what he shouldn’t do. He chucked away his medal at the presentation ceremony and left the arena in protest against the refereeing in the semifinal.
Throwing the medal to the floor, he threw away his dignity as well.
The poor behavior of the Chinese spectators in the archery and weightlifting arenas offers us another lesson. They shout or whistle at crucial moments, knowing full well that an individual has a tremendous impact on others.
We have a week to go before the Olympic Games end. I am full of expectations that many athletes will give us more good lessons. We can only watch, wait and take on the different messages and ideas that this sporting contest impresses upon us.
*The writer is the editor of the special reporting team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Sohn Jang-hwan