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Olympians have ties to various parishes

Posted By August 10, 2012 | 11:15 am | Featured Article #2
Nick Symmonds of the U.S. congratulates Kenya's David Lekuta Rudisha, who won gold in the men's 800-meter final, after the race at the London 2012 Olympic Games Aug 9. Symmonds, a 2002 alumnus of Bishop Kelly High School in Boise, Idaho, finished in fifth place. Rudisha also set a new world record time of 1:40.91 in the final. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)


Spain's Diego Ruiz tumbles as Matthew Centrowitz of the U.S., left, Ethiopia's Aman Wote and Morocco's Abdalaati Iguider run in the men's 1500-meter event at the London 2012 Olympic Games Aug. 3. Centrowitz has been based in Eugene, Ore., since 2007, but first gained acclaim while running for Broadneck High outside Annapolis, Md., where he received first Communion and was confirmed at St. Andrew by the Bay Catholic Church. (CNS photo/David Gray, Reuters)

Olympic runner Matthew Centrowitz has ties to Maryland parish
By Paul McMullen
Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) — What connection does St. Andrew by the Bay Parish in Annapolis have to the 2012 Summer Olympics?
Matthew Centrowitz is representing the United States in track and field’s 1,500 meters in London, where the games began July 27. He’s been based in Eugene, Ore., since 2007, but Centrowitz first gained acclaim while running for Broadneck High outside Annapolis, where he received his first Communion and was confirmed at St. Andrew by the Bay.
The parish figures in the religious medal Centrowitz wears during races.
“Three years ago, Matt asked me for a gold cross,” said Beverly Bannister-Centrowitz, his mother. “I bought one and took it to St. Andrew, had a priest there bless it after 11 a.m. Mass one day. I told him it was for my son. I didn’t say anything about him being a runner.”
That cross was most prominent last September in Daegu, South Korea, where Centrowitz won the bronze medal at the 2011 world championships. Only 21 at the time, he became the youngest American ever to medal in the event at the international level.
While hailed as a breakthrough, that performance came as no surprise to those familiar with Centrowitz’s scholastic and collegiate progress — and his bloodlines.
His mother, a licensed social worker, was a field hockey player in her native British Guyana. Her college in New York didn’t offer that sport, but she switched to track and became an accomplished half-miler, with a best of 2 minutes, 8 seconds.
His father, Matt Centrowitz, was a two-time Olympian for the U.S., in 1976 and 1980, and set the American record for the 5,000. He is the veteran cross country and track coach at American University in Washington.
He was a prep legend at Power Memorial High School in New York, where he credits the friendships he made and time spent with the Christian Brothers as being vital in his life.
“I get more calls from Power Memorial people than anyone else,” he said, of the reaction to his son joining him as an Olympian. “It was already a running power with a great tradition when I got there (in 1970). Brother John Bielen was a great coach, and great influence.”
The elder Centrowitz ran for Manhattan College before transferring to the University of Oregon, where he filled the void left by the 1975 death of Steve Prefontaine, America’s biggest running star of that era.
Matthew Centrowitz moved on to Oregon himself after Broadneck High, where he lowered the meet record in the 1,600 to 4:04.9 at the 2007 Maryland state championships.
In the spring of 2011, he won the NCAA championship in the 1,500, and followed that with a title at the U.S. track and field championships, becoming the first Oregon undergraduate since Prefontaine to win a U.S. outdoor title. After the world championships, he passed on his remaining collegiate eligibility, signing an endorsement contract with Nike and turning professional.
He qualified for the London Olympics at the U.S. trials, despite a knee injury that curtailed much of his training throughout the spring.
Still just 22 years old, Centrowitz was considered a long shot in London, where his aim was to become the first American to medal in the men’s 1,500 since Jim Ryun took the silver in 1968. He finished fourth, however, just four-hundredths of a second behind the bronze medal winner.
Peter Rono of Kenya was a Mount St. Mary’s University undergraduate in 1988, when he won the men’s 1,500 at the Seoul Olympics.
Centrowitz isn’t the only archdiocesan link to Olympic track and field. Harry Marra, a 1969 graduate of Mount St. Mary’s, is the coach of Ashton Eaton, the world-record holder and gold medal favorite in the decathlon, which tests proficiency in 10 events. The decathlon competition was to take place Aug. 8 and 9.
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McMullen is managing editor of The Catholic Review, Baltimore archdiocesan newspaper.

Olympian’s family gets support from their home parish in Michigan

By Daniel Linskey
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — After a sprint, a cartwheel and one, two, three twists in the air, Jordyn Wieber landed precisely on the mat.
On July 31 Wieber, 17, earned a near flawless score on the vault — her score proved to be a major contribution to USA’s women’s gymnastics team’s gold medal victory over Russia.
In the stands were her parents, Rita and David, who made it to the 2012 Olympics in London to watch their daughter in no small measure because of the help of their home parish in Michigan, St. Jude Catholic Parish in DeWitt, in the Diocese of Lansing.
Tickets for the women’s gymnastics competition can cost thousands of dollars, causing some Olympic families to watch from their living rooms as their daughters perform.
But parish office manager Christina Simon told Catholic News Service that the St. Jude community wasn’t going to let that happen and she organized a fundraiser to help cover the estimated $40,000 cost of sending the Wieber family to London.
“We’d watch her over the years progress and progress and become quite the little star,” said Simon in a telephone interview, “so as she traveled more we asked Rita if we could do anything to help the family see Jordyn. Her siblings haven’t seen her compete in more than three years because it was so expensive.”
Wieber was baptized at St. Jude and has been at the parish her entire career as a gymnast.
The teen told Faith magazine, Lansing’s diocesan publication, that there is more to life than gymnastics.
“I like to look at my gymnastics ability as a great gift from God,” she said. “Without God in my life, I feel like there would be no meaning.”
In the magazine interview, she also credited her mother and father with giving her strong faith.
“My parents have always made going to church as a family important,” Wieber said. “Sometimes we have to split up due to our schedules, but most of the time we are able to get to Mass together. It’s a very special family time and it means a lot to me.”
Simon’s fundraiser drew more than 1,000 people to support Wieber, who barely managed to fit the fundraiser into her schedule just before leaving for the Olympics. One family came from as far as Indiana.
Different T-shirts were sold, including a popular “Wieber Fever” shirt mirroring the enthusiasm for teen idol Justin Bieber. So many were sold that “a good portion of DeWitt now owns a shirt in one way or another,” Simon told CNS.
Also popular were her autograph on 5-by-7 cards that were being sold. Some kids even came with Corn Flakes boxes with Wieber’s image in hopes of getting her autograph.
“Jordyn was amazed,” said Simon. “We didn’t know if 35 people would show up.”
After expenses, the fundraiser managed to bring in more than $11,000, far exceeding expectations. Coupled with proceeds from a local golf club’s own fundraiser, about $20,000 was donated to the Wieber family.


Gold medalist Katie Ledecky of the U.S. poses at the women's 800 freestyle victory ceremony during the London 2012 Olympic Games Aug. 3. Ledecky, 15, will be a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md., this fall. (CNS photo/Jorge Silva, Reuters)

Maryland Catholic high school cheers on Katie Ledecky, its golden girl

By Maureen Boyle
Catholic News Service
BETHESDA, Md. (CNS) — Katie Ledecky will bring a gold medal home to Bethesda after winning the 800-freestyle swim race Aug. 3 at the 2012 London Olympics.
The 15-year-old, the youngest U.S. Olympian this year, attends Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda and is a parishioner at the Church of the Little Flower, also in Bethesda, where she attended elementary school.
With her Stone Ridge classmates, teachers and friends cheering her on during a viewing rally at the all-girls’ Catholic high school where Ledecky is a rising sophomore, the teen swimmer touched the wall with a time of 8.14.63, nearly breaking the world record set in 2008.
“We are so proud of her and so inspired by her. This is such a great gift to us to cheer for a living example of what a young person can achieve with great talent, determination and heart,” said Catherine Ronan Karrels, Stone Ridge’s head of school, who led the gathering in a prayer for Ledecky before her race began.
Wearing “Ledecky Team USA” T-shirts and waving American flags, more than 300 members of the Stone Ridge community, including students, alumnae and school parents, turned out to watch Ledecky’s race in an online live stream of Olympic coverage.
During the race, her enthusiastic fans loudly chanted, “Katie! Katie!” or “USA! USA!”
“I’m unbelievably proud of her,” said Allie Rock, a rising junior at Stone Ridge. “She’s the perfect example of how hard work pays off, and she’s worked so hard for this. She totally deserved this. We are so happy for her.”
As Ledecky led at every turn and maintained the lead for the entire 16-lap race, her admirers roared with excitement, erupting in the wildest cheers and applause when she finished first to win the gold.
Many stayed around longer to watch Ledecky’s gold medal ceremony and stand as an Olympic champion on the medal podium for the playing of the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“She’s so great, and we all love her,” said Martha Betubiza, one of Ledecky’s fellow sophomores, adding that she and her classmates hope to be part of a “Welcome home Katie Ledecky” gathering at Dulles Airport when she returns from the Olympics, which end Aug. 12.
“She’s so hard-working, modest and doesn’t really talk about swimming,” said classmate Ella Hartsoe, describing Ledecky. “She’s just so nice to everyone.”
in a pre-Olympic interview with the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, Ledecky talked about how much her Catholic faith means to her and how she prays the Hail Mary before every race.
She also thanked all those who have supported her along the way.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without everyone’s support — my family, teammates, coaches, everyone at Little Flower, Stone Ridge, and my neighborhood — all cheering me on and watching. It means so much to me,” she said.


PHOTO:Missy Franklin of the U.S. smiles after winning her women’s 200 backstroke semi-final during the London 2012 Olympic Games Aug. 2. Franklin, a senior at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., in the Denver Archdiocese, so far has won two gold medals and a bronze in the games. (CNS photo/Tim Wimborne, Reuters)

By Julie Filby
Catholic News Service
DENVER (CNS) — For swimmer Missy Franklin, a rising senior at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, “there is nothing like wearing a cap with my country’s flag on it.”
“I always remember, though, that I’m not just representing the U.S. but also my family, friends, team, school and Colorado!”
She made those comments early this year in a Q-and-A interview with the Denver Catholic Register, newspaper of the Denver Archdiocese.
That was before she earned a spot on the U.S. women’s Olympic swimming team, before she was a gold medalist.
Ranked first in the world in the 200 freestyle and 200 backstroke, first in the country in the 100 freestyle, and second in the 100 backstroke, she was at that point still some months away from the Olympic swim trials in Omaha, Neb. She had just set a record-breaking performance at the girls’ 5A Colorado championship swim meet in Fort Collins.
It would be an understatement to say a lot has happened to the 6-foot-1 swimmer since then. Franklin, 17, the youngest member of the women’s swimming team, had won two gold medals and a bronze medal by Aug. 2 and was expected to win more medals before the end of the 2012 Olympics Aug. 12.
After winning the won the gold medal in the women’s 100 backstroke final July 30, Washington Post reporter Janice D’Arcy called her “one of America’s new sweethearts” and said the teen “is rewriting the Olympic script” with the way she and her family have approached her training. Unlike so many athletes, Franklin has stayed with the same coach she has had since childhood and has remained part of her same swim club all these years, according to D’Arcy.
When it comes to her high school teammates at Regis, Franklin told the Register: “I love swimming with my Regis Jesuit sisters. I’m so proud of each and every one of them. Nick Frasersmith, my high school coach; and Todd Schmitz, my club coach, worked together so I could fit high school swimming into my training.”
Franklin started swimming competitively when she was 5 years old.
Asked how she has stayed grounded with all her success and the attention it has brought, Franklin said: “I have the best friends and family in the whole world.”
“I love being with them and having fun. My friends and I do all the usual high school activities including going to dances, out to see movies, and shopping,” she said.
At home, she and her parents, Richard and D.A. Franklin, “don’t talk about swimming, but enjoy just being together,” she said. The Franklin household includes Ruger, an 8-year-old Alaskan Malamute.
“We support each other and enjoy great family moments such as cuddling on the couch, in front of the fire, watching ‘The Sound of Music,'” she told the Register. “I have the best support system in the world.”
Franklin is not a Catholic, but she said life as a student at a Jesuit-run high school has her considering joining the church.
“My experiences at Regis Jesuit have absolutely impacted my spiritual life, in so many ways. I am considering converting to Catholicism; I’m currently Protestant,” she said.
“Going into Regis Jesuit, my faith was not a very big aspect of my life. Taking my first theology classes, going to my first Masses, going on my first retreats, I began to realize how important God is in my life and how much I love him and need him,” she continued.
Franklin said her relationship with God grew so much in her first three years at the school. “I am very happy with where I am with him right now, although there is a lot of more work to do,” she added.
Her junior year really affected her. “I have had two of the best experiences of my life,” she said, referring to the annual Kairos retreat for juniors she attended and her participation in a two-week service project.
“Both of these changed my life,” Franklin said. “I am so thankful for Regis Jesuit, for they have brought God and so much meaning into my life.”
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Filby is a reporter at the Denver Catholic Register, newspaper of the Denver Archdiocese.

London Catholic churches open hospitality centers for Olympic visitors

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service
MANCHESTER, England (CNS) — The peal of church bells across London for three minutes beginning at 8:12 a.m., July 27 signified that after seven years of intense preparation the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games had at last reached England’s capital.
The mass bell-ringing was an initiative in which all of the city’s churches were invited to take part. Even “Edward,” the massive bell of the Catholic Westminster Cathedral, was among those that rang out to herald the arrival of the games.
Big Ben, the bell of St. Stephen’s Tower at the Houses of Parliament, rang for three minutes for the first time since the funeral of King George VI in 1952.
But as the bell tolling ended and the focus switched with anticipation to the opening ceremony later that day, three Catholic churches in particular understood that the chimes signaled the start of a very busy time.
The churches are serving as hospitality centers for visitors to the games, which run July 27-Aug. 12.
One parish, St. Francis of Assisi, stands just a quarter-mile east of the Olympic Park. Two large marquees have been erected and fitted with big screen televisions in the church parking lot to broadcast all events live. Free refreshments were to be offered 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
“It is a very casual hospitality suite,” Frank van Velzen, assistant Catholic coordinator for the games, told CNS July 26.
“We have got table tennis and badminton and games for the youngsters to play but there is also a quiet prayer garden for people to get away from the noise,” he said.
St. Franciscan parish will see its clergy increase more than threefold as local pastors are joined by friars from Italy and Portugal so confessions can be heard in several languages and Mass and Benediction can be celebrated with unusual frequency.
The church was to be open around the clock for eucharistic adoration.
On July 29, athletes and their families were expected to pack the church when Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan, Puerto Rico, was to celebrate Mass for the Puerto Rican national team.
The hospitality effort not only was to provide spiritual comfort to visitors but to make the churches better known to the wider London community.
Father Michael Dunne, the pastor of Our Lady and St. Catherine of Sienna Parish, also hosting a hospitality center, is aware of the witness the church would give to people who pass by during the games.
The church is situated on one of the main thoroughfares running west from the Olympic Park to central London and thousands of people will walk past its doors each day.
“We are very excited and want to share the faith,” Father Dunne said.
“It is very important that we witness to Christ among us,” he explained. “This is faith-sharing on the maximum scale.”
Parishioners and volunteers were planning to stand on outside the church, offering visitors free bottles of water and votive candles and inviting them into the church. Sporting events were to be shown on a big screen television in the church hall. The parish garden, with 48 varieties of roses and a large statue of Mary, will be open for prayer.
The hospitality center that was to be burning the midnight oil, however, was at Notre Dame de France Parish, situated off Leicester Square in the heart of the West End entertainment, shopping and dining district.
As part of its attempt to offer hospitality, the Marist-run parish, was planning a “Praise Marathon” from 3 p.m., Aug. 4 and running through Aug. 5.
Anne-Marie Salgo, the parish’s evangelization project coordinator, said the West End was often busiest in the early hours of the morning and that the parish wanted to offer a “welcoming service centering on the games.”
“We believe that welcome is a very special charism of the Catholic Church in our location,” she told CNS in a July 26 telephone interview.
“The Church of Notre Dame de France is an oasis of peace and a chance for people to get away from all the noise and to reflect on the deeper things in life.”


Bishops of UK, Ireland urge Catholics to use bodies for ‘glory of God’
By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service
MANCHESTER, England (CNS) — On the eve of the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Catholic bishops of the United Kingdom and Ireland called upon Catholics to use their bodies for the “glory of God” in a Day for Life message.
Citing the Olympics and Paralympics, which were to open in London July 27 and Aug. 29, respectively, and the importance of healthy living, the bishops announced that they had distributed more than 400,000 pamphlets that urge churchgoers to “live a healthier, more balanced and environmentally sensitive lifestyle.”
They also reminded people of the importance of exercise and physical activity.
“In the next few weeks, we are going to see Olympians and Paralympians do the most amazing things,” said Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark in England, chairman of the Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
“It will be incredible to watch world records being broken, gold medals being won and after years of dedicated training, personal sacrifice and daily discipline, the body performing feats that humanly we would think impossible,” he said in a statement July 23.
“This year’s Day for Life reminds us all of the importance of taking care of our bodies at every stage and in every condition. It’s a call ‘to use our bodies for the glory of God,'” the archbishop said.
The Day for Life was initiated in Great Britain and Ireland at the suggestion of the Blessed John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”).
In England and Wales, the Day for Life was to be celebrated July 29.
Part of the Day for Life message reads: “The athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic games help us to celebrate the human body in all its wonder, especially when it faces the challenge of disability, physical limitation and pain.
“They testify that to achieve success in sport requires a harmony between the body, the spirit and the mind brought about through training and discipline,” the message said.
The Day for Life message has been criticized by some Catholics, however, for failing to focus on abortion and euthanasia.


Pope says he hopes greatest sports event in world brings global peace
By Catholic News Service
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI expressed his hope that the Summer Olympics would help bring peace and reconciliation throughout the world.
The Olympic Games, held this year in London, are “the greatest sports event in the world,” drawing athletes from the myriad nations of the world to one city, the pope told visitors gathered to pray the Angelus with him July 22 at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo.
The games have “important symbolic value,” and for that reason the Catholic Church looks to them “with special fondness and attention,” he said.
“I send greetings to the organizers, athletes and spectators alike, and pray that, in the spirit of the Olympic truce, the good will generated by this international sporting event may bear fruit, promoting peace and reconciliation throughout the world,” he said.
The Olympic truce tradition, originating in 8th-century B.C. Greece, asked that all wars and conflict be suspended before and during the games as a way make sure participants could travel to and from the venue safely.
The pope said he prayed the Olympics would be “a true experience of brotherhood between all peoples on earth.”
He also gave his blessings to all those taking part in the games, which begin July 27.

Prayer, faith guide Maryland swimmer in quest for Olympic gold
By Maureen Boyle
Catholic News Service
BETHESDA, Md. (CNS) — When teenage swimming sensation Katie Ledecky slices through the water during the 800-meter freestyle race at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, she may not be able to hear the roaring cheers of adoring fans back home, but she’s convinced they will be with her in spirit.
“Everybody has been so great this year. During this whole experience, I realize more than ever that I have the best community,” said Ledecky, 15, who will be a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart this fall.
Ledecky said that qualifying for the Olympics seemed “far-fetched” just a year ago. But anyone watching her swim at the Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., would never have believed it. Ledecky won the 800-meter freestyle event, touching the wall in a record-setting time of 8:19.78. Her time broke the Olympic trials record of Katie Hoff set in 2008. Ledecky also broke famed Olympic swimmer Janet Evans’ age-group record in the 400 freestyle but finished third, one spot shy of making the Olympic team for another individual event.
Years of pre-dawn practice at the Curl-Burke Swim Club in Bethesda, being a member of the Stone Ridge Gators swim team and almost 10 summers on the community pool swim team have brought Ledecky to this moment. Not only is Ledecky the youngest member of the U.S. swim team, she is the youngest athlete on the entire 530-member U.S. Olympic team.
Ledecky, who has been swimming competitively since she was 6, describes her journey to swimming’s highest pinnacle as a dream.
“This is all sort of surreal,” she said.
The day before leaving for Knoxville, Tenn., where the U.S. swim team was training prior to the Olympics, Ledecky was like any normal teenager getting ready for a big trip: last-minute packing, getting her hair cut and spending time with family and friends.
She spoke with the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese, about her life, family, school, swimming career and strong Catholic faith, which, she said, keeps her focused on God and what matters most in life. She and her family are longtime parishioners of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda.
“I always pray right before a race,” Ledecky said. “The prayer I say is the Hail Mary.
“I also love going to Mass every week. It’s a great chance to reflect and connect with God. (My faith) has been a big part of my life since I was born,” she explained.
Ledecky said she has always loved St. Anne, the mother of Mary, and chose her name for confirmation. Because her birthday is March 17, Ledecky also has a special devotion to St. Patrick.
She credited the example of men and women religious she has known for inspiration. She called the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who taught her at Little Flower School in Bethesda, “great role models.”
Her godfather, Jesuit Father Jim Shea, provincial of the Maryland Province of the Jesuits, is a close family friend and another Ledecky supporter.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without everyone’s support,” Ledecky said. “My family, teammates, coaches, everyone at Little Flower, Stone Ridge and my neighborhood, all cheering me on and watching. It means so much to me.”
She counts her family, which includes her dad, David, her mom, Mary Gen, and her 18-year-old brother, Michael, as among her greatest role models and boosters.
“They never pushed me too hard. They’ve been so supportive with everything,” she said.
Ledecky said watching Michael swim inspired her to take up the sport. She eventually became a distance prodigy.
“I just always loved the social atmosphere and the competitive nature, and the way you work so hard and see yourself improve on a daily basis,” she said.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Rosemaron Rynn, principal at Little Flower, said the school community is rooting for the young swimmer and held a special send-off to the Olympic trials for her.
“She’s a great young girl. She’s kind, caring, responsible and very unassuming. We just wish her the best, and everyone here is cheering her on,” Sister Rosemaron said.
The Stone Ridge community is just as proud of its Olympic swimmer. The school’s website lists her swimming accomplishments and even has T-shirts available: “Ledecky Team USA. London 2012. A Stone Ridge Girl.”
“Everyone is extremely excited for Katie. This couldn’t happen to a more deserving young lady,” said Dwayne Bryant, the school’s athletic director. “She’s a regular, sweet kid, and the true definition of a student athlete.”
As she prepares for the London games, Ledecky said she was looking forward to marching in the Olympics opening ceremonies July 27, and perhaps a little sightseeing after her event, scheduled to begin Aug. 2. She also said she is a little awestruck to be training with the swimmers she’s looked up to and followed since she was a young girl.
“It’s a thrill for me to be on the team and to represent the United States for the first time in a swim meet. The team’s swimmers all seem to be great individuals. The local swimmers from our area, Kate Ziegler — who attended Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va. — and Matt McLean, have been especially nice though,” she said.



PHOTO: Katie Ledecky celebrates after winning the women’s 800-meter freestyle during the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Neb., July 1. At age 15, Ledecky is the youngest member of the U.S. team competing in the London summer games. (CNS photo/Jeff Haynes, Reuters)  Top, A Brazilian fan is seen wearing a hat with a statue of Christ before men’s soccer game between Brazil and Egypt at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, July 26. (CNS photo/Francois Lenoir, Reuters)