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|| News Item: Posted 2008-09-04

Olympic Moments: Smiley Pool
'These are also two guys who I was able to spend some time with and can honestly say are great folks.'

By Smiley Pool, Houston Chronicle

Photo by Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle

Photo by Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle

TOP: Glenn Eller shows off his gold medal to coaches Sergey Luzov, left, and Daniel Carlisle, right after winning double trap shooting. BELOW: Kyle Bennett crashes during the BMX competition.
This was my 7th Olympics and never have I had so many local athletes to follow. Wow, it kept me busy, but it was a real joy following them and get to know some of them when we were doing our previews. Okay, we all know how the deal goes. One of my biggest "locals," literally and figuratively, was Yao Ming. I know, he's Chinese, but he lines up in a Houston Rockets uniform and the folks in our town identify with him. That makes him a larger-than-life story back home.

Another "local" was diver Yulia Pakhalina of Russia who brought home two silver medals. She starred at the University of Houston and made her home there after college. Her husband apparently contacted the office to personally thank us for putting her photo on page one when she won silver in the women's 3-meter springboard.

But by and large most of the notable Houstonians were home grown, like the entire Lopez family in taekwondo, two-thirds of the men's gymnastics team with Jonathan Horton and Raj Bhavsar, divers Nancilea Foster and Laura Wilkinson, Cat Osterman in softball, hurdler Kerron Clement, Charlie Ogletree in sailing and a few notable farther flung Texans like Nastia Liukin, Jeremy Wariner and Sanya Richards. In all, our Olympic writer David Barron counted 64 athletes that live or train in Texas, list Texas as their home state or attended college in the Lone Star State.

Focusing on their stories made for an interesting Olympics because I missed most of the "big" stories. I only saw Usain Bolt run in one prelim and barely scratched the big Michael Phelps show. But I did get to know some of the local athletes and, I must confess, I was pulling for them a little bit.

So when I was asked for a photo to represent these Olympics, I've bent the rules and chose two. These aren't the best photos I shot, but these are two of the memorable moments that represent, for me, the highs and lows for the Houston delegation. These are also two guys who I was able to spend some time with and can honestly say are great folks.

One of the high points was shooter Glenn Eller of Katy (a Houston suburb) bringing home the gold in double-trap after two unsuccessful attempts in Sydney and Athens. Before this Olympics he joined the Army and says it brought him the discipline he previously lacked. He set an Olympic record for his event.

"Being a soldier in the U.S. Army, I do what is expected of me. And they asked me to come to Beijing and win the gold. I don't know how to better represent them than with a gold medal in my hand," he told reporters afterward.

On the flip side was the spectacular crash that effectively took Kyle Bennett of Conroe (another Houston suburb) out of this Olympics' inaugural BMX competition. The photo was shot a split-second before he dislocated his shoulder. He still qualified for the semi-finals, and raced despite the injury, but failed to make the finals. He said it was like riding while someone jammed a knife in his shoulder.

Still, he took everything in stride and kept it in perspective, saying, "I never dreamed our sport would be in the Olympics." So, even in defeat it was an inspirational showing by the local contingent, and it was my honor to help tell their stories to the folks back home.

Related Links:
Smiley's member page

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