Friday, July 27, 2012

Flashback Friday: The Olympics

I actually wrote a post about the Atlanta Olympics in 2008, so no need to repeat myself here when you can go back and read that post in my archives (August 2008). But today, at the start of the London Olympics, I did want to write about the Olympics and why it is my favorite sporting event to watch. I LIVE for the Olympics! I'm not a big sports watcher because I find it to be a boring waste of time. I don't mind going to an occasional game in person, but when it comes to TV, I prefer to watch something that engages me or else read a book.

The first Olympics I remember watching were the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia and the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California. I was living in Omaha, Nebraska at the time, in the summer before I started Junior High School. What made the Los Angeles Olympic Games interesting was the boycott of the USSR and a few of the Soviet Bloc countries, in retaliation for the American boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. When it comes to boycotts, I think it was one of the worst decisions made by President Jimmy Carter. He didn't really "punish" the Soviets for their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 than he punished American athletes who train and dream about going to the Olympics. For some athletes, it's their one shot at glory. Asking them to wait 8 years between Olympics (the 1976 Summer Olympics were in Montreal) is too much, as some athletes' physical abilities are no longer at their peak.

I enjoyed watching the Los Angeles Olympics. I especially enjoyed watching the gymnastics, in which both the American men's and women's team won gold and Mary Lou Retton's perky personality became the star of these games. One male gymnast had an unfortunate name, though it's the only one I still remember now: Mitch Gaylord. The mascot of these games was Uncle Sam, a cartoon bald eagle. Certainly a lot better than Atlanta's "Izzy".

When I worked at the Atlanta Area Council starting in 2001, I met a District Executive who said that he won a medal in track and field at the Los Angeles Olympics. I thought he was only kidding. He also played on a professional football team. I checked out the information and it is true. He won the Silver Medal in the Men's 100 Meters. He was a nice guy and I did not understand why he was working in such a crappy job after accomplishing things that most people only dream about. He deserved a better fate than being a District Executive for a Scouting council.

The only Olympics I did not get to see much of is the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. I was in the Navy in La Maddalena, Sardinia. We had one TV in Squadron spaces and everyone seemed okay with watching the Olympic coverage. Except this one Chief Petty Officer who was new to the command and a complete ass (he was an ass the entire time I had the misfortune of dealing with him). Because he HATED (and I mean HATED) the French, he refused to watch the Olympics and turned the channel, even though a group of us were watching it. His hatred of the French carried on when our ship made a port visit in Toulon, France in May 1992 and he refused to leave the ship. What was his beef against the French? All because the French government refused to allow American warplanes from England fly over their country on the way to bomb Tripoli in 1986. He was that petty. However, for all his assholeness, I never got to see much about the 1992 Olympics in Albertville. In 1994, he would end up going to Captain's Mast for fraternization and sexual harassment. I took pleasure in that because he once told me that liberals had no place in the military because we couldn't follow orders. Well, I proved him wrong. I never had to go to Captain's Mast and I received an Honorable Discharge and a Good Conduct medal. Not bad for a liberal!

The 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway was memorable for the drama surrounding Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. I hated, absolutely HATED Tonya Harding. My parents didn't like Nancy Kerrigan. They thought she was too stuck up, and she was. The foreign press wrote negatively about the "American soap opera" and even though Kerrigan skated a flawless program, the Olympic judges gave the gold medal to Oksana Baiul of the Ukraine, who cried her eyes out like someone she loved died. It was probably a smart move, though. My favorite moment of those Olympics was seeing Tonya Harding interrupt her skating routine to tell the judges that her skating laces were undone. She had a look of ugly on her face and it was just as well. Karmic retribution for what she tried to do (having her husband Jeff Gillooly club Nancy Kerrigan in the legs at the Olympic trials). Tonya Harding is from Portland, Oregon and at Lloyd Center Mall is a skating ring where Tonya learned to skate. She's representative of the redneck part of Portland. We're not all young, urban hipsters here.

At the discussion group I attend twice a month, we discussed the Olympics. I told the group that the Olympics were good for Atlanta but Atlanta was not good for the Olympics. Even now, I still wonder how Atlanta managed to win the games. Athens was the favored to win based on 1996 being the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympic games. But Athens wasn't ready for it. They were barely ready for the 2004 Olympics. Also bidding that year was Toronto, Canada; Manchester, England; and Melbourne, Australia. I thought both Toronto and Melbourne had a pretty good case to make for hosting the Olympics, though Melbourne had hosted before in the 1950s. It worked out better that Sydney got a chance to host in 2000 (which I consider to be the best Olympic Games ever). Since the U.S. last hosted the Summer games in 1984, it was Canada's turn. However, there were many Canadians who did not want the games in Toronto since Canadian taxpayers were still paying for the Montreal Games two decades later.

When my family moved to Atlanta in 1988, there were the Olympic bid logos all over the city. I thought it was amusing that Atlanta wanted the Olympics. When you look at which cities have hosted the Olympics, it has all been the most majestic cities, where tourists actually travel to see. London. Paris. Amsterdam. Rome. Athens. Tokyo. Munich. Berlin. Atlanta wasn't even a Top 10 American city in terms of population. When I lived in Europe in the early 1990s and Europeans asked where I was from, no one had ever heard of Atlanta. As far as U.S. cities go, San Francisco had never hosted the Olympics and is probably the best American city for it, since there would be so many picturesque places to hold events. Boston would be another great city. In 1988, the population of the metro area of Atlanta (including the city and the many suburbs surrounding the city) was 1.5 million. In 1996, the population was 3 million. When I left in 2006, the population of the metro area was 4.6 million. I liked it better when metro Atlanta was 1.5 million. The impact of the three million new residents were felt in the areas surrounding Atlanta. Traffic became worse. Much worse.

But in 1990, when the International Olympic Committee announced their choice for the 1996 Olympics, I did not go to the gathering at Underground Atlanta because I expected that Athens would win, simply because of the 100th Anniversary. I did not think that Atlanta had a chance. Even if there was an upset, I thought Australia would get it because of their plea to bring the Olympics back to their continent. When the International Olympic Committee announced Atlanta as the winner, it was a huge morale boost. Who would have thought it? All day, everywhere I went, people were happy and you could feel the positive energy. It was a great day. A great moment. Because of Atlanta's hosting duties, though, it influenced me to get out of the Navy early. Had it not been for the Olympics in Atlanta, I would have extended my enlistment to experience the 6 month deployment of my last ship on it's second voyage to the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Had Athens or Melbourne or Toronto hosted the 1996 Olympics, I probably would not have returned to Atlanta after getting out of the Navy, either. I would've stayed in Virginia to attend Old Dominion University in Norfolk and then seeking to transfer to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Interesting how something like this could change the course of my life.

When the Olympics come to your town, you definitely want to stay and experience it. I was shocked to hear a lot of people in Atlanta wanting to leave town when the Olympics came. That was absurd. The world is coming to Atlanta and you want to leave? The world never comes to Atlanta! Stay and enjoy. Though there were problems with the level of greed and the number of people selling T-shirts and Olympic pins, and overpricing bottles of water and Coca-Cola. Mayor Bill Campbell's sleaziness in handling the Olympics also contributed to his corruption trial and prison term. Atlanta did a poor job designing the Olympic Cauldron (an ugly looking thing that has not grown better with age) and with the mascot. They did get the Olympic logo right, though. It was a brilliant design of an Olympic torch featuring '100' as part of a Greek pillar / column. It was a nice touch. The best Olympic logo ever!

What really gave the Olympics a black eye was a bomb that went off in Centennial Olympic Park. It really sucks that one person could cause such damage to Atlanta's reputation in the eyes of the world. Pressure to find the culprit before the international media packed up and went home actually ruined a guy's life. The investigation centered on a security guard who had found a suspicious bag and reported it. The FBI thought he was an example of someone who desired fame and being thought a hero that he planted the bomb and reported it. The media scrutiny into his life (he was in his 40s and still lived with his mom) basically made his life hell. I believe he died a few years ago and its sad when I think about how the media's desire to find a culprit scapegoated a man who did everything he was supposed to do. The real bomber was a right wing anti-government radical named Eric Rudolph. He wouldn't be caught for years and actually had anti-government sympathizers supporting his life on the run before he was caught, about 10 years after the Atlanta Olympic Games.

In spite of the mishaps, being able to attend quite a few events at the Olympics in my home city has been one of the great moments in my life. I doubt that I will ever live in a city that gets to host the Olympics, and I'm not expecting to have the chance to attend an Olympics again, but I really enjoyed the summer of 1996. It was one of the great moments in my life.

America tried to win the 2012 Olympic Games with New York City, but it was an awful choice. New York City is far too compact and congested as it is, not to mention a dirty, grimy city. Holding a Summer Olympics in New York City would disrupt the daily routine of millions of people who live and work on three different islands (Manhattan, Staten, and Long Islands). It would be a freaking nightmare. So glad that London beat out New York City. Then for 2016, Chicago wanted to host the Olympics and even Mayor Daley got President Obama to do some personal schmoozing with the International Olympic Committee in order to "bring home the games". When the IOC picked Rio de Janeiro, conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh gloated that the U.S. lost the bid because the world "hates Obama", which was such a huge lie. The reason why Chicago lost the bid was because South America has never hosted an Olympic Games before and they were long overdue. Rio de Janeiro is the perfect city to play host to the Olympic Games. It has pizzazz and razzle-dazzle like you wouldn't believe. The city is about as telegenic as a city can get. It's going to be a gorgeous Olympics for sure. Also, in the history of the modern Olympic Games, America has hosted four Summer Olympics, which I believe is more than any other country. Two of those happened to be within our lifetime. So, try again in another decade. Both Canada and Mexico are due Olympic hosting duties when it's our continent's turn (according to the IOC, the five Olympic rings on its flag represent the continents, with North and South America as one ring).

I know that there are people who say, why have an Olympics, considering the costs and the security and the challenges. Why? Because the world needs moments of inspiration, to see what humans are capable of achieving when focused on their best. Records still keep getting broken. How often does the world get to come together and take a break from the various political, military, and economic differences and just be united in the spirit of sport? The Olympics are one of the greatest things about believe alive on planet earth. Never underestimate the effect of inspiration on the imaginations of humans, no matter where they happen to live. So let the games begin!

1 comment:

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

The Olympics in Rio: now THAT is going to be fantastic.