My defining Olympic moment

Of all the stirring, colorful moments I experienced at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the most vivid one was not a fantastic athletic performance.

Men's beach volleyball was not my idea of a premier Olympic sport. Is it yours? But not wanting to disappoint my hosts, I dragged myself down to the early bus, braced for a long hot day.

Bondi Beach was lovely, though, and the crowd was thick, young, and boisterous. Rock music and roars of enthusiasm filled the air.

Then it happened: The Russian team was playing the Germans. But something was missing: their cheering section. No proud Russians were making fools of themselves for their team.

In the time it took for me to notice it, Aussies organized. Someone stood up to ask if anyone knew any Russian. A makeshift cheer emerged. "Come on, you lot!" another yelled. "Let's give the Russians what they deserve!"

So every time the Russians tapped, slapped, or slammed the ball to the superior Germans, the Aussie crowd let out a roar. We Americans joined in, too. The enthusiasm was contagious.

The Russian team lost that day. But before they left, the towering young men turned to the crowd. Their faces broke into broad grins. They blew kisses to us, waved their arms over their heads, and shouted, "Thank you, Australia!" You could see that they meant it. I teared up. So did others.

That moment defined the Olympic Spirit, for me. Cheering for the Russians because no one else did.

I thank you, too, Australia.

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