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Cheering for Olympians' gold and glory
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I haven't accomplished much during the last couple weeks. I hardly had time to write this column. My hectic schedule can be summed up in two words: the Olympics.

I'm not in the Olympics or even at the Olympics. I just watch the Olympics on TV. At this time of year, it can be a full-time job.

Aren't the Olympics grand? I love watching gymnastics. And diving. And swimming. Basketball and badminton are great, too. So is rowing. Then there's track, tennis and even table tennis. I experience a special sort of exhilaration viewing someone who has worked to be the best in the world, even if I complete my task from halfway across the globe, with remote control in hand.

I cheer with the winners, and lament with those who don't come in first place. No one wants to be second best, especially at the Olympics, where the race or match or meet is most always a tightly fought battle.

Imagine a key moment of your life being defined by a hundredth of a second, a tenth of a point or some other miniscule number too small for the human brain to fully grasp. Imagine training for years only to step out of bounds or have a bad start out of the block or a bobble off the balance beam. Second best doesn't take home the gold. Every Olympic athlete dreams of gold.

Perfection is scary business. No wonder I never won a gold medal. Heck, I've never even made it to the Olympics - even as a spectator. Still, I enjoy living vicariously through our Olympic athletes for a couple of weeks every couple of years.

I guess it's because I'm a sucker for a good Cinderella story, and the Olympics is full of glass slippers. It's heartwarming to watch Joe Everyday stand on the top step of the winner's podium, listening to his or her national anthem and maybe wiping a tear or two from glistening, albeit happy, eyes.

It's a special place - the top of the podium. An achievement earned by few. I salute those who have been there, because they've worked harder than most of us can imagine to get to the top - to be number one.

Oh sure, they've had help. There are coaches, teammates and moms and dads who have sacrificed to see their particular athlete take home the gold. Still, there is only room for one person at the top stair of the winner's platform. That spot belongs to the athlete - no one else.

Rightly so.

It's human nature to find a sense of satisfaction in your accomplishments. If you work hard for something, and attain success, you deserve kudos.

If you are an Olympic athlete, those kudos include only one gold medal in each particular event - not two or three or four (unless you're playing a team sport, but you get my gist). As much as my heart breaks for those who come in second place, I realize if we all received a gold medal for our best attempts, a gold medal wouldn't be worth much.

I love the Olympics and I salute the athletes who give their time, effort and hearts to their teams, sports and events. Whether they win gold, put in their personal best time or just qualify to compete in the worldwide competition, they deserve to hold their heads high and relish their Olympic glory. They've earned my applause. I only hope they can hear me cheering, across the pond, from my humble and decidedly nonathletic living room.

- Jill Pertler's column appears every Thursday in the Times. She can be reached at