Glorious gold medals and unforgettable signature celebrations may grab the headlines but on the ground there was an undeniable presence of spirit as the world united for three wonderful weeks at the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
Less than a minute had passed since the full-time whistle had sounded and the reality was yet to sink in.
Four years of preparation and the dream of an Olympic gold medal had been taken away in a cruel twist of fate delivered by the sporting powers that be.
The Australian men’s hockey team, more affectionately known as the Kookaburras, had been beaten 4-2 in its semi-final encounter against eventual London 2012 champions, Germany, after leading 2-1 in the early stages of the second half.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the world number one ranked squad, which had remained unbeaten at major international tournaments since the end of 2008.
But amidst the celebrations of the opposition, the bowed heads of the defeated resting inside their hands and the consoling pats on the back from coaching staff - one man stood tall amongst the rest.
A Maitland man, 26 years of age and making his Olympic debut, was the first player to shake hands with the victors.
Simon Orchard made the effort to walk across the other side of the field to congratulate the Germans on their progression to the final and for quite some time the former student of St Mary’s Campus, All Saints College Maitland, was the only man wearing green and gold out in the middle at Riverbank Arena.
An understandably shattered Australian crew slumped to the ground around the dugouts contemplating what might have been. Eventually they kicked into gear, but it was Orchard’s initiative that prompted the rest to act.
This golden effort was the sign of a leader, an act of good sportsmanship (take note aspiring juniors) and most importantly provided a timely reminder of the Olympic spirit.
As disappointed as Orchard may have been, as much as he wanted to exit quickly - he knew there was more at stake.
It was the realisation that the Games represent more than just the aspirations of an individual and the hopes of a nation in pursuit of boosting their position on the medal tally.
It was the realisation that while winning is important, and of course feels much better than losing, at the end of the day it isn’t everything.
And it was the realisation that he was part of something much bigger than just another hockey match.
This was sport at its highest endeavour, a multi-faceted event that unifies the flags of almost every nation on the one stage, and a time of peace for almost three weeks in a sometimes troublesome world.
Take for example the poignant photograph of two competitors departing the battlefield arms wrapped around each other’s shoulder s– only the embroidery on their uniforms told them that their home lands, the USA and Iran, had run into political issues in the past.
Take the South Sudanese refugee, Guor Marial, who won the right to compete at the Olympics as an independent athlete, breaking down geographical borders and highlighting the importance of the participant rather than country.
Take the duo from Saudi Arabia, Wojdan Shaherkhani and Sarah Attar, who became the first females from their country to compete at an Olympic Games, making massive headway into the issue of gender equality in the conservative Kingdom nation.
Take the gardener and pool attendant turned Olympic rower in Hamadou Djibo Issaka of Niger, a crowd favourite, being cheered to cross the line in last place in each of his races just three months after taking up the sport.
And take the $67,000 raised by a group of Games volunteers who collectively donated the money they would have been paid to a charity that assists children in Uganda.
Of course the outstanding performances of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Bradley Wiggins will not be forgotten in a hurry, but these moments can be just as moving, and as important, within the overall scheme of the Olympics.
By the way, the Kookaburras bounced back 48 hours later and scored a bronze medal with a 3-1 victory against hosts Great Britain.
Orchard scored the opening goal and signalled home with his now trademark celebration ‘the Ram’, which recognises his former Maitland club.
There were a few more smiles post match this time around but it is all part of the journey.
Orchard, and each of the Hunter athletes, were able to dance in the international spotlight at London 2012 while bringing the Olympic spirit a little closer to home.
- Angie Bainbridge (swimming)
- Suzy Batkovic (basketball)
- Richie Campbell (water polo)
- Thomas Fraser-Holmes (swimming)
- Benn Harradine (athletics)
- Iain Jensen (sailing)
- Kristy Oatley (equestrian)
- Lyndal Oatley (equestrian)
- Simon Orchard (hockey)
- Nathan Outteridge (sailing)
- Daniel Repacholi (shooting)
- Josh Ross (athletics)
- Jenni Screen (basketball)
- Brendan Sexton (triathlon)