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Goldmark: Olympics are joyous reminder of humanity

Olympic rings light up the stadium during the

Olympic rings light up the stadium during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, in London. (July 27, 2012) Credit: AP

'Believe. Don't fear. Believe."

A young girl is sexually abused by her coach. Her life is nearly destroyed. With professional help and strong family support, she rebuilds, finds her way . . . and wins a gold medal in judo in London.

I attended the opening of the Olympic Games in London two weeks ago. I was moved.

The preshow and opening ceremonies together lasted from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. in the morning, so this was not an undertaking for the fainthearted or those with weak bladders.

It involved literally a cast of thousands, a flyover by the Royal Air Force Red Arrows, dances, skits and dramas, a spectacular torch ceremony, and a closing sing-along led by Paul McCartney of the Beatles.

Those of us in the Olympic Stadium shared a sense that we were there to reaffirm one of the oldest and highest forms of human endeavor. It was a solemn moment when representatives of the athletes, the coaches and the umpires took the oath to play hard but fight fairly and live up to the highest Olympic ideals. It was a dramatic moment when the Olympic torch completed a hand-to-hand journey of 12,000 miles and was passed to young athletes to light the large cauldron of fire that burned throughout the games.

The American women's eight-oar rowing team poses with their coxswain, Mary Whipple, after winning the gold medal. One of the rowers says: "Mary, you're our brain and I'm your body." The others jump in: "We're all your body." Mary Whipple beams: "What a body!" The sense of teamwork and the oneness are palpable.

The athletes entered the stadium on opening night organized by country. They ranged from straggling groups of two or three from tiny island states to the disorganized mob of Americans that filled half the oval track around the stadium as they sauntered in, hamming it up for the crowd. In this extraordinary pageant of human prowess the biggest and the smallest countries are in one important way equal, because an outstanding athlete from a small country can -- and sometimes will -- defeat the best-trained athlete from a superpower. And while these men and women did everything possible in the days that followed to defeat their rivals from the same parade, they stood together this first night to honor the same values, uphold a common tradition, and share the same mixture of excellence and vulnerability.

"Believe. Don't fear. Believe."

London is the only city to have hosted the modern Olympics three times, and it seemed fitting for all those countries, new and old, to pay their respects to a nation that has shaped so much of modern history, from the industrial revolution (dramatized in the opening ceremonies) to the anti-slavery movement. Great Britain, once the world's largest imperial power, is no longer much of a threat to anyone, and its best values seem to have outlived its most brutal incursions. And so the games came again to London, where both were shining examples of our better side.

Gabby Douglas is 16. She is smaller than petite -- she is absolutely tiny. Her smile could light up a room and her determination could move mountains. She was not the favorite, but this summer no one was going to stop her from taking the gold medal in the women's individual all-around gymnastics event. After she won and that beaming smile had replaced total concentration, people asked what she had been thinking.

"Believe. Don't fear. Believe."

Peter Goldmark, a former budget director of New York State and former publisher of the International Herald Tribune, headed the climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund.