The Olympics offers competitive theater like no other athletic event.
Dreams came true right before our eyes. So many of the young athletes in the 2012 games -- some still in their teens -- represented their countries so well, letting their families and supporters bask in golden glory right along with them.
We will remember gold-winning gymnast Gabby Douglas, thrust into the international spotlight for the first time, landing with confidence and flashing that smile. She won over her nation and didn't let the petty Twitter criticism bring her down. Good for her.
We will remember young swimmer Missy Franklin, just 17, winning four golds and dedicating her performance to the victims in the Colorado movie theater shooting. She is returning to high school, forgoing millions of dollars in endorsements so she can swim competitively in college and get a degree.
We, of course, will remember the more polished athletes, too. Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter of all time, from Jamaica. Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of all time, ending a career for the record books. And the U.S. basketball team, who competed with class and won the gold. But the moments were sweeter with the first time medal-winners, the up-and-comers who reaped the biggest reward, on the biggest stage, for the first time.
Perhaps the most compelling images from the Olympics didn't come from a medal winner but from Oscar Pistorius, who ran the 400 meter with prosthetic legs, and made the finals. He became the first double amputee to compete in an Olympic race.
The Olympics, as much as any sporting event, represents the payoff for dedication and talent. Unlike pro leagues in the United States where team championships are often decided by market (and payroll) size or shrewd general managers through draft picks, the Olympics represent more of a pure competitive spirit.
There are some big egos involved, but the Olympics give the entire world something to root for. A young man or woman, seizing the moment, putting years of work on the line to achieve their personal dreams and to honor their country. We can't imagine how many sacrifices each has made in their pursuit of greatness. We empathize with the watching parent, whose heart stops beating during the competitive climax. It's just so very thrilling to see all the athletes succeed when they step out against the very best the world has to offer.
We can't wait for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.