I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this year’s Summer Olympics. A lot of factors conspired against them. To start, way back when, Chicago pushed to get this year’s games. I’ve read a lot of pretty solid stuff on the economic impact of getting the Olympics—not to mention using public money for pro sports—nothing I’ve seen supports the idea that it’s good economics for the host city. And to boot, just the ill-fated effort to get the Games left Chicago and its citizens with a nice chunk of debt.
Then, there was all the turmoil about the state of Rio and it’s readiness to host. From what I’ve seen, things are coming off pretty well, save for the occasional green pool water. So, either the coverage leading up was overblown and bordering on hysterical. Or the TV people are doing a great job of covering up. I suspect it’s a little of both, but I’d sure like to see some followup on the disaster predictions.
And of course, the International Olympics Committee is pretty much a nicely tailored group of mobsters.
Still, somehow, I found myself enrapt watching tiny, impossibly young women with names Gabby, Simone, and Aly, running, bouncing, vaulting, spinning, twisting like quantum particles in some Hadron collider experiment. And fish-like humans cutting through the water, and Usain Bolt bolting like lightning. And women of all ages just killing it in their sports.
Seeing all that reminded me of eagerly anticipating the Olympics as a kid, and watching everything I could—because there wasn’t nearly as much on TV back then, so stuff really stuck out. Like Bob Beaman defying physics and long-jumping nearly 30 feet—a full two feet (not inches, feet) longer than the previous world record. That was the 1968 Mexico City edition, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute when they received their medals. And the ruckus that caused.
In 1972, I was sure the good guys would somehow prevail and the Israeli athletes would be released, and the terrorists who took them hostage would be thwarted. I was wrong, and though Mark Spitz swam for the ages, I’m afraid the tragedy and savagery is what I’ll always remember.
In 1976, I crossed my dormitory hall to hang out with one of the few guys on the floor who had a TV. We watched Franz Klammer make a hair-on-fire, edge of disaster run in the downhill to win Gold. 1980 was the Miracle on Ice, and 1984 Olympics overlapped with our wedding day. Figure skaters, pole vaulters, biathletes and on and on.
Things have gotten too commercial and pretty corrupt since then. The notion of amateur status is, well, just Orwellian at this point.
I can’t help feeling, though, that some of the athletes—particularly the ones in sports that only get attention at these events—manage to rise above it all in a very recognizable, old-fashioned way. Here’s to them.