Melinda Mawdsley: See you at the Olympics

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Somewhere a little girl is twirling atop a park bench, pretending the wooden plank beneath her is a 10-centimeter balance beam, and she is seconds away from gold.

Somewhere a little boy gets down low, pops up and sprints toward a tree at the far end of his block, thinking one day he will be the world's fastest man.

During the past two weeks, a new core of Olympians such as Carly Patterson and Jason Gatlin, though young, have inspired a new generation to dream.

I, too, grew up with Olympic dreams, but mine were different. I had no aspirations of competing. I dreamed of one day being an Olympic writer. Now, five years into my career, covering the Olympics has become more a goal than a dream. To me, the pinnacle of sportswriting is the opportunity to cover sportswriting's pinnacle event, and nothing captures the attention of the world like the Olympics.

The World Cup features the world's premier sport -- soccer -- but it doesn't excite many Americans. The Super Bowl has two weeks of pomp and circumstance leading up to a game watched by millions, but its multi-million-dollar athletes do little to inspire others.

Olympians have stories, some of tragedy, all of triumph, because simply qualifying to compete is the reward.

I grew up watching the Olympics, turned on to the event in 1988 by my grandmother, who was fascinated by the athleticism and artistry in figure skating and gymnastics. We loved the Soviet skaters and Romanian gymnasts. They were powerful and poetic, and perhaps Communist, but it didn't matter. For two weeks, all Olympians were athletes competing for themselves and their countries, and we respected them for it.

My dream of one day covering the Olympics was solidified in the summer of 2000, when I interned with the U.S. Olympic Committee. I watched a badminton player with little shot of a medal sweat through three T-shirts every day in workouts.

I watched a wrestler train all summer with the entire weight of a life goal on his shoulders only to lose in the trials.

I watched members of the U.S. Short Track Speed Skating Team attach weights to their bodies and drag them around in the middle of the summer, training as if the Olympics were weeks away instead of years.

Every day began with eggs, fruit and juice and ended with pasta, a salad bar and some milk. The Olympic hopefuls would file in to eat, then disperse to train. It was a routine that repeated itself for the three months I was in Colorado Springs.

When we had free time, the interns often would sit with many of the athletes and talk about music, movies and the weekend's plans.

They were regular people who did more than dream. Every day didn't end with a smile, but each day began with one.

So I continue to train in the gyms and on the fields and slopes of Routt County by telling the stories of area athletes, some of who, by my good fortune, will be training for the Olympics alongside me.

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