The 2012 Summer Olympic Games are just one month away, with attention turning to the U.S. qualifying events.
Over the weekend, the USA Track and Field Trials drew local attention as Altoona grad Brady Gehret advanced to the finals in the 400 meters, finishing an impressive eighth overall.
Two fellow Penn Staters placed in the top four in the shot put qualifiers, with Nittany Lion volunteer assistant coach Ryan Whiting earning second and a spot on the Olympic team.
Watching the live telecast, the events go by so quickly. Gehret's quarter-mile final run was over in less than 46 seconds. Imagine the months of training, the buckets of sweat and the level of dedication that went into every one of those seconds for every one of the athletes involved. Then multiply that by 300 Olympic events and 205 participating countries. The magnitude of the Olympics is almost unimaginable.
For every elite athlete that earns a trip to London, thousands more around the world wish they could be there. That's just part of what makes the international competition so special: It truly spans the globe to bring together the very best of the very best.
And it takes so much more than just raw talent: good coaching, good health, mental toughness, time to train, resources to travel and even luck. These are just some of the factors in creating an Olympian.
Huge support groups lend a hand to each athlete. For some, it's dedicated parents who have given them the chance to develop their abilities, providing taxi service, financial backing and moral support. For others, it's also their coaches and teammates, some who live and train together for years leading up to the games; still others rely on friends, neighbors, sponsors and even strangers.
These support groups behind each athlete hold their breath hoping that their hometown hero will see his or her Olympic dreams come true, whether that hometown is Altoona, New York City, Paris, Tokyo, or any of the tiny villages around the world that we have never even heard of.
Next month, we will watch the Olympic Games, cheering for the athletes dressed in red, white and blue, and swell with pride, our flag raised in victory as Americans win gold medals. But there is tremendous accomplishment in every athlete who just makes it to London, and for all of those who took part in the process along the way.
The Olympic Games unite our world in a way that few other things can, through friendly competition and camaraderie of sport, with rules that are understood in every language, under a unifying flag of peace. The ties that bind these great athletes also link their friends, families and hometowns; all of those who invest in the common dreams of Olympians around the world.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.