Whatever Happened to the Olympics?

I remember when I was young, and the Olympic Games meant something. In 1976 the games were held in Toronto. My granny took me to Burger King, where I got a free poster to commemorate the occasion. I didn’t watch much in the way of sports then, being only 8 years old, but I knew it was something special. I got a Bruce Jenner poster, the winner of the Gold Medal in the Decathlon that year. Nadia Comaneci was gold medal-winning spitfire that year. I didn’t get one of her posters; she wasn’t American.

We only got one TV channel in those years (2 if we didn’t mind lots of snow and accompanying headaches)and the station that aired the Olympics (ABC, I believe) was one of these. As a family we were weekly viewers Wide World of Sports.  “Spanning the globe… to bring you a constant variety of sports,”  it began. And every week , we’d see that ski jumper tumble off the ramp. Agony of defeat.

In 1980, The US boycotted the Summer Olympics because, in irony of all ironies, the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan. The winter Olympics, though, were a thing of beauty in Lake Placid, NY, where I remember the Miracle On Ice, when the US, in defiance of the Soviet Bloc countries, won the Hockey championships.

1984 we viewed the Sarajevo Olympics, where we were treated to Scott Hamilton, who had won a string of gold medals for years. His figure skating routine had me laughing aloud. I particularly remember the closing ceremonies, and the camaraderie amongst the athletes. This made me want to become an exchange student all the more. It is hard to fathom that in only 7 years, Yugoslavia would no longer exist, and the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats would see their nation wracked with war.

The 1984 Summer games were in Los Angeles  The highlights were (1) I was caught masturbating by my mom, who entered my room without knocking to tell me that opening ceremonies were beginning (2) the Soviets boycotted the Olympics to boycott our boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics. Boy, were our faces red!  There was also (3) the men’s gymnastics team, including Peter Vidmar, Bart Connor, Tim Dagget and Mitch Gaylord, winning the Gold Medal. I recall wondering if they’d have won if the Soviets had bothered showing up. That summer (4) Zola Budd also crashed into fellow runner Mary Decker. Was it deliberate? Probably not, but we thought so at the time, probably because he Soviets weren’t there to give us the fight we were all itching for.

After that, I don’t know what happened. The Olympics were held in Soeul, Lillehammer, Salt Lake City, Albertville… were they in London already? Atlanta? Oh, yeah. There were bombings. It all blurs together in a slushy sea of “I no longer give a damn.” I’m a horrible person.

The two amazing moments in 25 years of Olympic hubbub since then (the IOC allowing professional basketball players being the final nail on my Olympic coffin) were Greg Louganis, who slammed his head against the diving platform and went on to win a gold medal for his perfect form. Also, Kerri Strug’s amazing vault on a sprained ankle that led the US Women’s team to an all-around gymnastics victory.

And now, the winter Olympics Sochi, which surprising to most Americans, isn’t in Japan but a city on the Black Sea in Russia. The only reason I’m even aware of this games is the Russian stance on LGBT individuals.

Did I change or did the Olympics? I still love a good underdog story. I enjoy all the sports in the Olympics with the possible exception of badminton, because those guys spike the birdie hard (when they’re trying at all), and speed skating (they look like dorks). Through all this time, controversy and politics has tarnished the sporting events, and probably will for years. I haven’t got the patriotic animosity toward a red sickle-and-hammer world power anymore. Maybe I simply no longer care, because I live in a world where my television receives more than two channels. I don’t know. The thrill is no longer there for me.  I will show solidarity with my LGBT friends another way, I think. This new fight, sorry to say, is just stupid. So, I guess I’ll just celebrate this year’s Olympics exactly as I have done every year since 1980—by drinking coffee and relaxing on the couch—only this year, I’m not even going to bother watching.


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