Two days ago I watched the U.S. Women’s Olympic gymnastic trials. I haven’t kept up with the sport since the last Olympics, so I didn’t recognize any of the competitors. The faces were different; the scoring was different; but the excitement was the same. The Olympics is now on my radar! August will be here before you know it.
The first Olympics that I can remember watching was the one held in Munich in 1972. I’m sure I saw others before, but they really didn’t register. Munich was different. Maybe it was my increased attention span or maybe it was because the television coverage began to highlight each individual’s story instead of the teams as a whole. I was always easily hooked by a well-told tale! It may also be that I remember that Olympics because it depicted both the best and the worst humanity had to offer.
Munich was where Belarusian Olga Korbut changed women’s gymnastics forever. The tiny, pig-tailed girl with the big smile did her incredible backflips and inventive routines making her an audience favorite and a gold metal winner. After Olga, the female gymnasts would all be younger and more athletic.
U.S. athletes Mark Spitz broke all records by winning 7 gold metals in swimming; Dave Wottle, coming from behind, won the 800 meter run; and Frank Shorter won the marathon. I watched it all with edge-of-the-seat excitement.
I also watched in horror as Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village and took eleven Israeli athletes hostage. For almost two days, the games took a backseat to the life and death struggle between innocent athletes, governments, and terrorists who were determined to use the event to further their cause. The hostages were either killed directly by the terrorists during the standoff or later during the rescue attempt. Some of the shine of the Olympics was gone forever.
Thirty-six years later, this summer’s Olympics are being held in Beijing. Security will be tight. There are still terrorists who would love to disrupt the games and take over the world stage. There are governments who will try to use the games to make political statements. But there are also still athletes who are determined to achieve their dreams, who have sacrificed much in the name of competition and the quest to be the best in the world.
Whether you prefer to chalk up your hands, tie on your running shoes, or dust off your ski poles, which Olympics touched your heart? Which Olympian do you remember best?
– who never had a Dorothy Hamill haircut but thought about it.