At some time, in some place, there is always a story.

As the Olympic action wound down on Sunday it was at the National Indoor Stadium, where the Iceland handball team had just lost to France in the men's final.

The Icelanders got a bit of a pasting in the end but their fans didn't mind.

It was still their best Olympic performance since 1956 (when they won a triple-jump silver).

iceland438.jpgSome of the country's 300,000-or-so inhabitants had been given the day off to watch their semi-final against Spain, and their surprise win sparked delight in the capital Reykjavik. Cinemas in Iceland were even showing the game for free.

Bergur Ingi Petursson, one of Iceland's Olympic hammer throwers (6ft 3ins/20 stone) was one of the Icelanders in the stadium on Sunday for the final, one of the very last on this year's Olympics schedule.

"The whole Iceland Olympic team is here supporting," he said. "Back home, everything will have stopped while everyone is watching this."

There are really 205 different Olympic Games every four years - one from the perspective of every country taking part.

And sometimes, even in medal-rich countries, it is the stories of disappointment or failure which really resonate.

Even in China, where they've broken the magic three-figure mark for total medals and amassed a gleaming hoard of 51 golds, it's a woman who blew her first chance at a gong who stole the country's hearts.

Du Li, a young shooter from a poor family in Shandong province, was supposed to be all set to win China's first gold of the Games in the 10m air rifle final.

But she let her nerves get to her, finished fifth and broke down in tears, later apologising for letting her fellow Chinese down.

National broadcaster CCTV was inundated with letters, emails, texts and phone calls from members of the public wishing to pass on their commiserations - and support - for Du.

Qian Jiang, TV reporter for CCTV said: "We were overwhelmed by the response from the public.

"When she cried we all cried. We felt we had put too much on pressure on her."

Redemption was complete a few days later, when Du had another chance in the 50m event, and this time she took gold - thanking the outpouring of support for her comeback.

mitcham438.jpgAnd even in win-at-all-costs Australia, one of the stories which has resonated the most, apart from diver Matthew Mitcham who broke up the Chinese clean sweep when he registered four perfect 10s and a 9.5 to total 112.10 in the final, is that of a girl who took silver.

"She came second but in the eyes of Australia she's a winner," read one headline after Sally McLellan's gutsy finish in the 100m hurdles.

As the runaway leader and favourite fell at the second last hurdle, American Dawn Harper, McLellan and Canada's Priscilla Lopes-Schliep came through to steal a surprise 1,2,3.

"Just keep going, keep going, keep going," was McLellan's quote afterwards.

Stuart Wallace from 7 News Australia said: "Her interview in the mixed zone afterwards was one of the most refreshing pieces of sports interviewing I've ever seen. She was such a breath of fresh air. We had a lot of fun with that story."

I was in the press conference and the three medallists sat there like kids, giggling in wonder at their luck.

In Sweden, where they failed to win a gold medal, the public have had to make do with the exploits of table tennis player Jorgen Persson, at 42 one of the oldest competitors in the Games.

Persson, the 1991 world champion, looked like he might emulate the great Jan-Ove Waldner, who won singles gold in the 1980s and reached the Athens semis aged 39. (Persson lost both his semi and his bronze medal play off - but kept the Swedes entertained).

The other story which hit home with Swedes was that of Ara Abrahamian.

The world of Greco-roman wrestling was rocked when Abrahamian threw his bronze medal away because he was so disgusted having been denied a place in the gold medal bout by a controversial refereeing decision (one of several in several sports at this Games).


"All of Sweden supported him," said Swedish reporter Tobias Osterberg.

Hazel Irvine, who has presented more than 100 hours of live action from Beijing's Ling Long pagoda, and watched even more of it after her shifts were over, says it is the ability to get this unique global perspective of sport around the world which make the Olympics.

"While it has obviously been so successful for Team GB, I also love some of the stories that have come out of the other 200+ countries here," she explains.

"Rohullah Nikpai winning bronze for Afghanistan, their first Olympic medal, was a real highlight - the country's president has even given him a house and a car.

"It is important to remember there are places in the world suffering a lot of pain - and that's the power of sport. It does not solve problems - but it can make you feel better."

Germany's hearts were won by super-heavyweight weightlifter Matthias Steiner.

Steiner competed in Athens for his native Austria, then fell out with the Austrian Weightlifting Federation and decided to apply for German citizenship. For three years while he waited he couldn't compete.

Last summer, just before his citizenship came through, his wife Susann was killed in a car crash.


She had planned to come to Beijing with him. He won by a kilogram with his final lift and carried a photo of her as he stood on the medal podium.

IOC head Jacques Rogge's favourite Olympic story was that of Matthew Emmons, the shooter who blew his chance of a medal for the second Olympics running.

Four years ago he shot at the wrong target to register no score and throw away certain gold, but picked up a consolation prize in the form of a new wife, who met him while consoling him on his disappointment.

This time around he needed a seven - got the shakes and only managed a four.

"What moved me most was the attitude of this man, the attitude to say this is a big failure, I take responsibility but I will come back and I will win gold," said Rogge.

"The Games is not only about winning, it's about the struggle of everyday athletes to reach his or her own limits."

The story which really tickled the French was that of brothers Steve and Christophe Guenot, who took gold and bronze in the wrestling.

The father, mother, uncle are all wrestlers. They practice by fighting each other apparently.

There are many more stories of countries achieving new Olympic bests -
Bahrain winning its first ever gold medal through Rashid Ramzi in the 1500m, Togo winning a first Olympic medal - in canoe slalom - and Tunisia winning its first gold since 1968 when Oussama Mellouli took the 1500m freestyle.

But one of my favourite stories of the Olympics comes from Italy, via Cuba, and does not involve a medal of any colour.

It is that of Taismary Aguero.

Aguero defected from Cuba (with whom she won two golds) in 2001 while the team was at a tournament in Switzerland. She sought political asylum in Italy, where she later married Allesio Botteghi, an Italian physiotherapist who works with volleyball teams, which led to her citizenship and allowed her to compete for the Italian volleyball team.

Marco Del Corone, of Corriere della Sera, explained: "Her father died while she was living in Italy then her mother fell ill, so she tried to get back to Cuba to see her mother.

"They would not grant her a visa but in the end she got one - but then on the plane home she got a text to say her mother had died.

"So she switched planes to meet up with her team-mates and got to Beijing in time to play at the Olympics."

Oh, and the team lost in the quarter-final against the USA. What's that again about the taking part?

Claire Stocks is the BBC's interactive editor for Olympic sports. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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