For sports such as track and field (officially called athletics in the Olympic language) and swimming, the drama has been fascinating. The difference between being an Olympian or falling short has been as minuscule as 1/100th of a second.
Many stories are uplifting, but some are equally sad such as Colorado Springs native Adam Goucher cheering for his wife Kara Goucher (both were University of Colorado standouts) as she made the Olympics in two distance-running events, but then not quite qualifying himself.
Having covered five Summer Games, including Athens in 2004, my experience has been that the stories of athletes merely making it to the Olympics have been just as memorable as those that turn into gold medals.
But it's not always spine-tingling. Sometimes the quest for Olympic dreams can bring out a darker side, among those inside the movement and even the media. Two such instances have taken place during the past week.
Still dominant at 41
First, there was the remarkable resurgence of 41-year-old swimmer Dara Torres, winning both the women's 100 meters and 50 meters at the Trials in Omaha, Neb., with career-best times. She swam the 50 meters more than a second faster than in 1988, when she was 21.
And so the cynics in sports journalism have basically accused Torres of somehow cheating. Many of those same writers are admitting they lost their naivet after not paying closer attention to baseball stars, from Barry Bonds to Rafael Palmeiro, until it was too late.
So now they're acting upon their past shame by doubting Torres. And that's just wrong. If she were playing baseball, perhaps. But not with such totally different circumstances.
As incredible as Torres' accomplishments are, there are explanations. Yes, she's legally taking a medication for asthma that probably has increased her lung capacity. But she also has benefited greatly from much more advanced training techniques and equipment, and let's remember that she already was a world-class athlete anyway. Her typical daily routine includes two hours of strength training, a comparable amount of resistance training to give her maximum flexibility, and regular massages.
She's clearly in tremendous condition yet she's still human, as evidenced by her already having decided not to swim the 100 meters in Beijing, despite her Trials victory. All those heats in two events would be too much, so she'll focus on the 50 meters and try to win the gold medal.
Sure, it's extraordinary for a woman swimmer to qualify for her fifth Olympics, so far removed from when she first went to the Summer Games in 1984. But it's not like all kinds of swimmers, young or older, suddenly have begun obliterating their personal bests. There's no evidence of a new "secret serum" or chemical way to circumvent the rules, and it's even more unlikely that if there was one, just a single athlete would be able to take advantage.
The cynics will be out in force at the Olympics. But from this view, they won't be able to tarnish what Dara Torres already has done, and what she might do in Beijing. My guess is, she'll also inspire others in different sports to make their own comebacks within the regulations.
Bending the rules
There's an entirely different kind of controversy inside gymnastics. A few weeks ago, with a complex set of criteria that didn't involve winning or losing a single event, USA Gymnastics chose its teams for the Summer Games.
The competition was especially close among the men, with Morgan Hamm being picked from several rivals to fill out the roster. Trouble is, now we've learned Hamm tested positive at the national championships (one of the events used to pick the team) for a banned substance. Actually, Hamm had doctor's approval to take an injection of an anti-inflammatory drug (comparable to cortisone), and by filling out a waiver form with the doctor's clearance, he would've been fine. But, inexplicably, Hamm never filled out the form.
This isn't about being unaware. Rest assured, all potential Olympians, coaches and trainers in every sport are fully educated in today's world on the rules, standards and protocols they must follow.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has given Hamm a public warning. His results from that national meet have been invalidated, so by a strict interpretation of rules, since those results were used in the selection process, Hamm should be removed from the Olympic team. But we're hearing that the gymnastics folks might not do that, mainly because they fear the negative effect it could have on Hamm's twin brother, Paul Hamm, the 2004 gold medalist who's also on the team for Beijing.
Some might argue that Morgan Hamm deserves a break. But what message does that send to those who were so close to making the team?
The best example is David Durante, a local Olympic Training Center resident-athlete who performed well at the Trials but wasn't chosen. Durante followed every rule, his dedication has never been in question, and one could argue that he deserved to make the team as much as Morgan Hamm did. Take away those invalidated results from Hamm, and ...
It might seem like severe punishment, but it also sends the wrong message not to draw a hard line here.
We'll know the outcome soon, but the repercussions will follow the U.S. gymnasts all the way to China.
That's too bad, but such is life anymore inside the Olympics at least until the Games begin.