Today is the last day of the Olympic Games and we will be bidding farewell to the athletes from around the world.
We barely came to know some of them, and may not even remember most of the others.
But we are grateful to all of them for the wonderful sports gala.
By wonderful I do not only mean the stars like American swimmer Michael Phelps who won eight gold medals and the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt who won three gold medals with three world records.
By wonderful I mean those moments that revealed something that transcended the gold tally and world records. That noble sportsmanship the athletes from various countries demonstrated. What impressed me most was the Olympic spirit they displayed.
As a sports layman, I remember the name of Paula Radcliffe from Britain. She finished 23rd in the women's marathon, a result probably disappointing to many and to herself.
Yet in my mind, she is a true heroine.
On the day of her race, I watched her on TV. She was clearly ill at ease which caused her to gradually slip back in the field. I saw her twisted face and thought she would drop out.
To my astonishment and admiration, she soldiered on, even without any hope of grabbing a medal. I was greatly touched.
Then there was Lee Bae-young, the Korean weightlifter and a gold medal hope. He injured his right foot as he attempted to lift 183 kg. But he limped onto the stage and tried again. Again he failed. Again he returned and tried once more.
Even though Lee failed, his courage to challenge the impossible outweighed that of winning a medal. His performance well interpreted Pierre de Coubertin's Olympic ideal.
Also touching was the story of Oksana Chusovitina, representing Germany. She was really outstanding among the women gymnasts and yet old enough to be the mother of some of her competitors.
At first I felt it strange for a 33-year-old to compete with teenagers. But Chusovitina's performances were so convincing, and her determination so resolute, she soon won me over.
Then I learned that she was competing to earn money to pay for the medical treatment of her 9-year-old son diagnosed with leukemia. This selfless mother's love gave this woman unusual courage and strength to fulfill a "mission impossible". She won silver in the women's vault.
I am sure when spectators at the National Gymnasium saluted her with a thundering ovation, Chusovitina had won something beyond an Olympic silver. She won our heart-felt respect.
Equally impressive was the always smiling Shawn Johnson, a gymnast from the United States. I could sense the frustration of the 16-year-old as she kept losing by a slim margin to her Chinese opponents and teammate Nastia Liukin. Nevertheless, she wore that disarming smile all the time, for the spectators, her opponents, her coaches, and herself.
When she finally got a gold in the balance beam, observed Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzei, "the mostly Chinese crowd roared like one of their own had prevailed". I could not agree with him more. That girl was a ray of sunshine at this quadrennial sports festival.
Many athletes never entered the limelight, yet they made no less remarkable contributions to the Olympic legacy.
I will not forget Dana Hussein, the women's 100m sprinter from Iraq who failed to qualify after her first run. I view her as a winner no less, as she had come in defiance of death threats.
My respect also goes to Asenate Manoa, another 16-year-old, from Tuvalu. I learned that she had never seen a starting block until she went for training to another country in preparation for the Beijing Games.
Like Dana Hussein, Manoa failed to qualify in the women's 100m sprint at 14.05 seconds. But she set a national record. And she managed to draw many of us to her Pacific island country.
These athletes showed us that in the Olympic Games, you do not necessarily have to win honor for your country only with medals. Two sharpshooters added grace to the Olympic spirit with their actions.
When Russia and Georgia got into a bloody conflict shortly after the Games opened, two of their competitors shared the medal platform in the women's 10m air pistol. Hardly was the medal awarding ceremony over, when silver medalist Natalia Paderina of Russia embraced the bronze winner, Georgia's Nino Salukvadze.
No message could be stronger than this emotional hug to tell the world that in the Olympic spirit, sport is beyond politics, and even though fiercely competitive, peace reigns.
These were the scenes that made the Beijing Games - the most watched in its 112-year Olympic history - beautiful and memorable. They represented the honorable Olympic spirit.
The author served as a chief editor of Official News Service with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games
(China Daily 08/24/2008 page11)