The news media presents Michael Phelps' gold medals as the highlight of the Beijing Olympics, but for me the highlight is the triumph of Raj Bhavsar and the U.S. men's gymnastics team in earning the bronze medal in the team competition. My heart sings, "O joy! O glorious rapture!"
I had admired Raj for his ability going back to the beginning of the decade and was disappointed when I found out he wasn't going to be on the 2004 Athens Olympic team. For whatever reason, I hadn't seen or paid attention to whatever happened prior to the start of the games and was just surprised when I watched the competition and saw Raj, who I at least knew was one of our star gymnasts, not on the arena floor with our American team. Then I found out the circumstances of how he had deserved to be on the team but had been passed over so that someone else could be included. This really bothered my sense of right and wrong. My hope was that if Raj could, that he would come back in 2008 and get a second chance.
I watched the nationals and the trials this year and felt good that Raj would comfortably be put in the middle of our six member team, no problem. When I heard that Raj had been cheated a second time and denied inclusion, I felt sick to my stomach. For someone to come back after four years and at his age do better than almost all of the other entrants and then be robbed again, I felt terrible for the injustice that was being done in my country's name. It is my belief and I have no doubt in my mind, that the basis for his exclusion was blatant discrimination. That conclusion is not based on emotion; it is based on deductive reasoning. There is no other rational explanation, although pretexts have been referred to such as some mysterious, complex formula that determined third in trials wasn't really third.
I've never met the man, although I did once get his autograph at an exhibition in Indianapolis, and I don't know any more about him that what is generally known by the public. What I do know about him from what I have seen, is that this is a man that embodies all that I have been told that the Olympics is all about. He's a fighter, he's a champion, he's a role model, and happily he's all-American.
So I celebrate the victory of our American team and in particular the ability of one of its members to overcome adversity and to win not only for himself but for everyone that has ever earned something by great endeavor and then had it stolen away. Huzzah!
I had though about titling this post "Little Raj, Happy at Last", as a too cute reuse of the title of the Gloria Vanderbilt bio-pic, but I realized that with Raj's amazing attitude he was and would be happy no matter what, and the most important thing is to acknowledge that Raj has taken the rightful title that no one else can take from him again.