The difference between winning and being a champion.
In the opening ceremony for the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore on Saturday, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, had these words of advice for the young athletes competing in Singapore: "You will learn the difference between winning and being a champion. To win, you merely have to cross the finish line first. To be a champion, you have to inspire admiration for your character, as well as for your physical talent."
At the time, I didn't think much about it. It sounded like the polite thing to say to 3,600 competitors—most of whom would go back home after two weeks without a medal.
Since hearing that speech, however, I have witnessed a couple of amazing events that brought those words to life.
First, I attended the finals of the 3M springboard diving competition. It was won handily by Bo Qiu from China. Michael Hixon, from the U.S., came from behind in the last dive of the night to grab the bronze.
I caught up with Michael after his dive and he was glowing.
“It was pretty awesome," he said. "I was a little nervous before the last dive, but I knew what I had to do, and I did it."
However, the competition really stood out for me because of the performance of Tom Daley. Tom, 16, is the reigning world champion from the 10M platform. He represented Great Britain in Beijing in 2008 at the age of 13. Girls were standing outside the venue with 'I Love You Tom' painted on their cheeks. He's a celebrity!
Tom injured himself earlier this year, but rather than missing the Youth Olympic Games altogether, he decided to compete in the 3M springboard event because it hurts a little less. His third jump of the night was horrible. He didn't complete the last rotation and nearly landed flat on his stomach. That must not have happened to him in years. The crowd gasped, and everyone knew right then that he was not going to medal.
Tom had two more jumps to go, but rather than giving up, he smiled at the crowd and nailed them both! He knew he had lost any chance for a medal—he ended up 9th—but he finished it off in style.
It must have hurt a lot physically as well, because immediately after the last dive, he had an enormous ice pack on his arm and shoulder. You know what he said to me afterward?
"I'm very disappointed,” he said, “but it was an amazing experience."
Sign me up to Tom's fan club!
The second amazing event was in the finals of the girls' 2000m steeplechase, which took place under a steady rain. Anastasiya Puzakova from Belarus fell hard on one of the jumps after only one lap. She crashed on the track, and it took her so much time to get up that we all thought she had broken her wrist, or her ankle.
Anastasiya stood up and continued the race. It hurt me just to watch, because we all could see she was limping. We could also hear her screams of pain as she made her way around the track. She finished a minute and a half behind winner Virginia Nyambura from Kenya, but for her last stretch, the crowd was on its feet and cheering her on.
She collapsed after the finish line and was escorted from the track by the medical staff under a shower of applause. Anastasiya didn't give interviews after the race because she was being treated—she injured her knee pretty bad—but I saw her in a wheelchair before catching a bus back to the Olympic Village.
Even though I could see the pain in her eyes, she held her head high. She showed us all what it really meant to compete and do your very best. She showed me what it meant to be a champion.
PHOTO: Anastasiya Puzakova from Belarus is escorted from the track after the 2000m steeplechase finals. (Photo by Charlotte Samson)