An Op-Ed Sunday in the New York Times by Frank Bruni beautifully captures the spectacle, the spirit, the "firsts" and the "mosts," the triumphs, the pride, the lessons and, most of all, the inspiration to the world that the 2012 London Olympics represented.
Our 16 military Olympians who represented their country and their military Service most certainly shared in all of that:
Army Sgt. Vincent Hancock became the first shotgun shooter to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in men's skeet, eclipsing his own records set at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The U.S. Army sent the most athletes and coaches ever to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Along with other Olympians from the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, this group of athletes and patriots performed their mission well.
Yes, there were some who ended far down in the rankings, but there were also several very respectable finishes -- and a couple of very "close ones."
Talking about "close ones," Air Force Reserve Capt. Seth Kelsey finished one touch -- actually "a toe" -- away from winning the bronze medal in the Olympic épeé individual fencing event. He was stabbed in the toe by Korea's Jinsun Jung with 20 seconds left in sudden-death overtime for the Olympic bronze medal.
Nevertheless, Kelsey's fourth-place finish in the event was one of the best in recent history for the United States. The last American Olympic medal in épeé was a bronze at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, won by Navy officer George Calnan.
Army Spc. Justin Lester finished eighth in the Olympic men's Greco-Roman 66-kilogram tournament.
But let us not forget the members of military families (wive, daughters, brother) of our troops who also participated in the 2012 Olympics and who did it so well:
• Jamie Gray, wife of U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit shooter Staff Sgt. Hank Gray, who won the Olympic gold medal in the women's 50-meter rifle 3-positions event at the Royal Artillery Barracks in London.
• Janay DeLoach, daughter of retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. William DeLoach, who leaped 6.89 meters to win the bronze medal in the women's long jump at the London Summer Olympics.
• Troy Dumais, younger brother of Air Force Captain Justin Dumais -- an alternate military Olympian -- won the bronze medal teamed with Kristian Ipsen in the men's synchronized three-meter springboard final in London. Troy then went on to place a respectable fifth in the men's three-meter springboard final at the London Aquatics Centre.
• And then there is sixteen-year-old Gabby Douglas, daughter of Virginia Air National Guard SSgt. Timothy Douglas, who on August 2 became just the fourth American to win an Olympic gold medal in women's all-around gymnastics, after having also won gold with the USA women's gymnastics team. Gabby is the daughter of Virginia Air National Guard Sgt. Timothy Douglas.
The Times' Frank Bruni puts this beautiful young woman in proper perspective.
Referring to how the "Olympics have affirmed that human potential is just about infinite and that the human soul is good," and "the great rewards [that are] possible when great risk is taken and the prospect of glory on the far side of sacrifice," Bruni continues:
Gabby Douglas gave us a lesson in all of that. I can't quite let go of her smile or her story. Four years ago, at the age of 12, she unsuccessfully begged her mother, Natalie Hawkins, to allow her to leave their home in Virginia and train in Iowa, which seemed so distant and exotic that Hawkins once joked: "Are there people in Iowa? There's just corn."
Corn, that is, and a world-renowned coach who knows a thing or two about harvesting Olympic gold. Douglas joined forces with him when she was 14, and her mother finally consented to her wishes, placing her in the care of an Iowa family whom Douglas didn't yet know, in a town where a black girl was bound to stand out. Many nights, Douglas has said, she cried herself to sleep. But she had this dream. And the only path to it, she felt certain, was through those cornfields.
She is now "America's Gabby" just as our military Olympians are America's heroes.