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Steve Kelley: At the Olympics

Steve Kelley, a Seattle Times sports columnist for 25 years, is covering his eighth Olympics. He'll share news and tidbits as the Beijing Games unfold.

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August 18, 2008 8:08 PM

Aretha Thurmond: My favorite athlete in Seattle -- or at least very close to it

Posted by Steve Kelley

After she had qualified for the finals in the Olympic discus, her first time qualifying for the finals in three Olympics, Aretha Thurmond stopped in the mixed zone and told stories and laughed and fizzed like champagne. This was an athlete completely enjoying the moment.

And after 15 delightful minutes, I kiddingly -- maybe only half-kiddingly -- told her she was my favorite athlete in Seattle.

That was Friday night. On Monday night, Thurmond struggled. She was short on all three of her throws and didn't make the cut for the final three attempts of the final. I watched her disappointment. Saw her slowly pull on her warmups, sit down and stare across the track, alone in front of 92,000 people.

I watched her gradually gather herself and start to walk off the track. And saw her face, almost expressionless, as she entered the mixed zone to talk to a small group of Seattle writers.

Then Thurmond smiled and talked with us for 15 more entertaining minutes. She talked through her disappointment. She didn't mumble a couple of short answers. She didn't march through the mixed zone with a sullen expression that told us to stay away. She laughed and joked and celebrated the good fortune she felt, even in defeat.

I asked her why she was able to be so gracious, when so many athletes are so aloof.

"I love what I do and I know that my reactions and actions can affect others," Thurmond said. "I have no reason to cry right now. I have no reason to be upset right now. I came out and I gave it my all and I want my family and friends and support group to feel the same way.

"I don't want them crying right now. I don't want them upset. I want them to be happy for me. You know what I mean. And I guess my thing is that I understand how difficult this is and how awesome it really is to be a medalist, because it is that difficult. It is that hard. Yeah, I'm disappointed, but I'm not going to beat myself up. I had three throws to try to get it done and I tried. That's why I can leave with my head held up because I really tried. I guess I'm just different."

The Mariners' clubhouse should be so different. A lot of athletes could learn for Thurmond, who is the captain of the U.S. track and field team and was thrilled that her discus teammate, Stephanie Brown-Trafton, won the gold, the first U.S. women's discus thrower to win a medal since the 1984 Games.

"This is history in the making here," she said. "We had two Americans in the finals. And maybe this will open some eyes and let people know that we can win medals in the throws. So help us."

Thurmond will leave China with a smile on her face. She is the national champion. She is an Olympic finalist, which means she's one of the dozen best in the world at what she does. We all should be so accomplished.

"It's been a great experience here. I just wish I had had a better result," she said. "I really have enjoyed myself. My heart goes out to my teammates who didn't get to see their dreams come true. My heart goes out to myself because I didn't get to see my dreams come true today. I think that's what we learn in our sport. Shoot, there's good days and bad days. There's ups and downs. Had I thrown what I threw in qualifying I'd still be out there. Sometimes you just never know what's going to happen."

Thurmond, 32, has two meets left in her season, one in Paris and one in Stuttgart. And said she isn't done. And the idea of continuing to throw all the way to the 2012 Trials and maybe earning a trip to the London Games is, at the very least, enticing.

"I definitely know I can throw one more year," she said. "I'd love to be able to throw one, two, three, maybe four more years. You look at a lot of the women who are out there and they were born in 1960, 1965 and if that doesn't give you motivation, I don't know what does. It's definitely a sport of longevity and if I can get all the support right and get everything together, hopefully we can make it happen. Maybe London in 2012 isn't such a bad idea."

Keep throwing Aretha. And keep smiling.

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