For young athletes around the world, the opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games is a once-in-a-lifetime dream. Generations of great American athletes have built a proud Olympic legacy, and now five Mississippians are continuing this tradition in London.
What began as an ancient Greek festival has evolved into a showcase of international competition and goodwill involving thousands of athletes from more than 200 participating nations. Many iconic and historic moments have taken place during the Olympics over the years, and the London Games, which kicked off July 27, are no exception.
American swimmer Michael Phelps has already made history by becoming the most decorated Olympian ever -- breaking a 48-year record held by Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina. The London Games are also the first in which every participating country has female athletes competing. It is the first time more female athletes than male athletes will represent Team USA.
The talented Olympians from our state are ready for success on the world stage. Brittney Reese, Trell Kimmons, Bianca Knight, and Isiah Young have worked hard to reach this landmark achievement in their careers. They will have the chance to shine during the track and field events this week.
Reese, a former star athlete at the University of Mississippi, is an Olympic veteran, finishing fifth in long jump at the 2008 Beijing Games. The Gulfport native secured her spot in the London Games with the longest jump in the world this year.
Kimmons, Knight, and Young make their Olympic debut in other track and field events. Kimmons, of Coldwater, will compete on the men's 4x100-meter relay team, and Ridgeland's Knight is a member of the women's 4x100-meter relay. Young, a rising senior at Ole Miss, will contend for a medal in the 200-meter dash.
Another champion from Mississippi is again in the Olympic spotlight -- this time coaching athletes to Olympic glory. Jennifer Gillom, a native of Abbeville, won a gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Games as a member of the U.S. women's basketball team. Now she is representing the United States as the team's assistant coach.
A spirit of fellowship has always defined the Olympics, since the first modern Games in 1896. The interlocked rings of the Olympic symbol affirm this unity, representing the meeting of athletes from the five regions of the world. The Olympic Charter declares sport part of the "harmonious development of humankind."
And yet, the history of the Olympics is not without instances that stray from its ideals -- testing the strength of the human spirit beyond the playing field. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Munich Games, when Palestinian terrorists killed 11 members of the Israeli team in the Olympic Village. After the tragedy, some 80,000 people gathered to honor the victims in a memorial service in the Olympic Stadium. Four decades later, world leaders and the victims' families still seek an official moment of remembrance from the International Olympic Committee.
Paying tribute to those who lost their lives in Munich is in keeping with the Olympics' unifying spirit. The athletes may vie against each other, but the international competition remains an occasion to draw the world together.