Looking forward to London
The day after the Major League All-Star Game is a sports fan's nadir. No Atlanta Braves to watch, or any other major sports for that matter. If you really want to get your pro sports fill you can watch the ESPYs, but I'd prefer to start thinking about the Olympics.
Like most, I'm a sucker for the once-every-four-years event. The patriotism, the pageantry. The personal profiles that NBC will show, making you feel like this swimmer or that runner is almost part of your family.
But what will make the London Games so enjoyable for me personally is the inclusion of five Gwinnett participants from our local sports family. I was lucky enough to cover and write about four of those athletes in my previous life as sports editor of this paper, and knowing those personal stories will do more for my excitement about the Olympics than any NBC taped package.
The five locals headed to the games -- Eric Shanteau and Amanda Weir in swimming, Maya Moore and Al-Farouq Aminu in basketball and Kibwe Johnson in track and field -- come from different schools and backgrounds but are united in the unique opportunity to participate in an Olympiad. Every athlete's dream is to win a gold medal, but stop for a second and think how amazing it is just to be part of a spectacle like this. To march in the opening and closing ceremonies, to meet athletes from all over the world, to compete in the biggest sporting event on earth.
For Maya Moore, these Olympics are a continuation of a career that's known nothing but success. Competing for the United States women's basketball team, the Collins Hill High grad is looking to add a gold medal to titles she's won at the high school, college and pro levels. And in her high profile sport, there will be good chances for us to see her play.
This is a return to the Games for Shanteau (Parkview grad) and Weir (Brookwood). Weir not only has Olympic memories, but a pair of silver medals that she won in 2004 as well. Shanteau doesn't have Olympic hardware, but he was a huge story at the 2008 Beijing games after making the team after discovering he had testicular cancer. While Weir will again be concentrating on relays, Shanteau will be looking to medal in the 100 breaststroke.
I've always been a fan of Weir's -- even visiting her home for a story -- but the Olympic story I remember most is the one that didn't happen. Shanteau failed to make the 2004 team, missing his spot on the team by the smallest of margins. I wrote a column about the agony of that defeat after an interview that wasn't too enjoyable for either of us. But that's what makes the Olympics so theatrical -- that very fine line between elation and heartbreak.
Of all the local athletes headed to London, Johnson is my favorite. He was a good football player at North Gwinnett, but really stood out throwing the discus, an event that was also my specialty as a high school athlete. A great kid with a nice disposition and an amazing work ethic, he won a state discus title that foretold greater things. His path to London has been anything but a straight one -- but he's persevered and will have a chance for a medal in the hammer throw.
Finally, Aminu, a Norcross grad, qualified as a member of the Nigerian (his parents' home country) men's basketball team. Nigeria likely has little chance to medal, but Aminu will get the chance to compete and even play against Team USA, which should ensure people here in Gwinnett will get the chance to watch him in action.
Though Aminu likely won't leave London with a medal, he and Gwinnett's other Olympians will leave with memories worth their weight in gold. For viewers like me, there's no better theater than that.
Email Todd Cline at email@example.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.