BARCELONA, Spain — I want to know what happens to Mirsada Buric now. Don't you?
Will she ever see her mother and father? Where is her brother? Will she live?
The Barcelona Olympics gave us things to see. There were fountains and waterfalls, palaces and Ferris wheels. The Olympic flame danced against the night sky.
I remember Buric's earrings.
They were blue.
They had white flowers on them.
The earrings were old and beautiful and maybe they were a gift from her mother, or her mother's mother.
Sports is about courage. The Games demand a certain physical courage because of the pain that is always there. They demand courage of another kind as well. Only the bravest of us, no matter what we do, want to do it with 65,000 people watching to see if we can do it.
Gail Devers did it. For almost three years, the American sprinter suffered a mysterious illness that might have killed her. But she won a gold medal in these Olympics and would have won twice except for falling five strides from the finish line.
After the fall, Devers rose, beaten and aching. She moved to embrace the winner, the Greek runner Paraskevi Patoulidou, 27, for whom the victory was pure joy. Patoulidou kissed people. She danced. She wore the Greek flag. She kissed more people. Her joy was unbounded and so was ours, even from a distance, never having seen her before.
We have seen Carl Lewis for years. In Barcelona, as in Los Angeles and in Seoul, he came flying. His first long jump was enough for the gold. As anchor on the Americans' 4x100 relay team, Lewis made the earth run downhill for him even as it turned uphill for mortals. The man is a Dream Team all by himself.
The Olympics are what they are. They are money. Michael Jordan didn't like a shoe company's name on his official USA award-ceremony uniform. He is paid millions by another shoemaker. So Jordan draped an American flag over his shoulder, as hockey goalie Jim Craig did after the 1980 miracle at Lake Placid. But Jordan did it not to celebrate. He did it to hide the shoe company logo.
Explaining it, Jordan said he had to take a stand for what he believes in. Now we know. All these years we've wondered what Jordan believes in. Here's the answer. He believes in the shoe company that pays him the most money.
Occasionally, the Olympics are what they should be. They should be a Greek runner's joy. They should be the passion of English equestrian star Ian Stark, who spoke of the Olympic course's Fence 13: I can't think of anything that feels better than jumping Fence 13. Except maybe sex. Note that maybe.
Ron Karnaugh's father died during the Games' opening ceremonies. Six days later, the U.S. swimmer wore his father's straw hat to the start platform. When British sprinter Derek Redmond fell with a torn hamstring halfway through his 400-meter race, his father Jim came out of the stands onto the track and took his son into his arms. Together they moved toward the finish line, the son's arm over his father's shoulders. They refused officials' demands to stop. The last two steps the son took on his own, his father at his side.
The Games can tell us all we need to know. Difficulty is a staple of our diet, said a basketball player from dusty, barren, terrifying Angola. The coach there drives a Jeep. He pulls a water wagon. From it he ladles water into buckets at his players' homes. Angola's civil war of 17 years ended in 1990 with nearly 2.5 million people dead. Somehow, the Angolans came to Barcelona and ran into Charles Barkley's elbows.
Magic Johnson's smile lit up these Olympics and so did Heike Drechsler's. She is a German long jumper who has spent much of the last decade finishing second to Jackie Joyner-Kersee. She won this time. And then she said it was her greatest accomplishment. She added a charming caveat: My little boy Toni is the greatest thing in my life. But I cannot say he is my greatest accomplishment because it takes two to accomplish something like that.
Buric finished last in her heat of the 3,000. She didn't mind. She flew out of Sarajevo two weeks ago. She had run through a war there. She ran on city streets marked by mortar craters. She heard shrapnel's killing whistle. Only an ordinary runner, she came to Barcelona and the Olympics so people would know about poor besieged nation, Bosnia-Herzegovina, once part of Yugoslavia and now part of hell.
Serbian soldiers had taken Buric, a Muslim, out of her home and into a concentration camp for 13 days before releasing her to another part of the city. She hasn't seen her parents in two months, though she speaks to them through her sister. Her brother is missing, unheard from since the Serbs took Sarajevo as theirs.
These Olympics are games of joy. The Dream Team makes our hearts beat a little faster, they do a hard thing beautifully. We see the little Irish fighter Michael Currath defeat a mighty Cuban and then hop around the ring as if on springs, his face a portrait of exultation.
I am happy, Mirsada Buric would say after finishing last in a qualifying heat. She wanted the world to see her. She wanted us to know about the war. Some men went to Barcelona worried about shoe contracts and one woman went to Barcelona worried about neighbors killing neighbors.
Buric was to return to Sarajevo last week.
She had to go back, she said, because it is her home. As for danger, she said, yes, to be alive in Sarajevo is to be in danger. But she would go on training in the streets. She would go on running because war should not steal her life. Somewhere today, I hope, wearing her flowered earrings, Mirsada Buric will run in the morning light.