Saturday, August 9, 2008


I love the Olympics. Love them. I love the pageantry, the drama, the huge stories and the little stories, the triumphs and the heartbreaks. I love how powerful it can be, and I love how corny it can be too.

I don't remember watching any Games before 1980. I have vague recollections if 1976 in Montreal, but I don't know if those are my memories, or if they're things I've heard about and read about over the years, until I can't tell the difference any more. I'd like to think that I watched Nadia Comaneci, for example, but I don't think that I did.

The first Olympics I do remember watching was the Winter Games in 1980, and even then the only memory I have, obviously, is the hockey team's Miracle on Ice, defeating the Soviet Union 4-3 -- not the gold medal game, as a lot of people incorrectly remember. The US had to defeat Finland 4-3 two days later for that. But there's nothing else about the 1980 Games I remember. I probably watched figure staking, as Linda Fratianne and Robin Cousins seem so familiar, but if I did watch it's gone now.

I remember the opening ceremonies in Los Angeles in 1984, which was wondrously corny kitsch at its best. Especially I remember the 88 grand pianos all playing Rhapsody in Blue. I remember Rafer Johnson lighting the flame; barefoot Zola Budd from South Africa tripping Mary Decker; Carl Lewis being superhuman.

For some reason I don't remember the 1988 Games in Seoul. Did I not watch it? What was the matter with me?

Interestingly, what I most remember about 1992 in Barcelona was the absolutely astounding view from the swimming pool, looking out and down over the city; and paralympic archer Antonio Robello lighting the flame with an arrow. And eagerly gobbling down the 24/7 live coverage from NBC's unfairly maligned Triplecast--which nobody else seems to have watched--instead of their worthless tape-delayed coverage.

All that's left from the winter games in Albertville that year was the weird opening ceremonies with the dancers all wearing bizarre costumes. Those crazy Europeans!

Everyone remembers Nancy and Tonya from 1994 in Lillehammer -- and probably not much else -- so that shouldn't even count.

A billion and five memories from Atlanta in 1996, not all of them good. The opening ceremonies coming to a tremendous crescendo leading immediately into the parade of nations, with Muhammed Ali lighting the flame; the rampant, nauseating commercialism; Michael Johnson absolutely obliterating the world record in the 200 in track; the pipe bomb; Amy Van Dyken winning the 50 free in swimming, maybe the most exciting event in all of Olympic sports; Kerri Strug and the gymnastics team.

From the opening ceremonies in Beijing last night, mostly I remember how fucking pompous and aggravating Bob Costas is. Hey Bob -- shut up! Nobody is interested in your blowhard speechifying! We dont need constant narration for us poor dumb Mekins, explaining what's going on. We have brains ourselves; we can interpret and infer. And, you know, simply enjoy. It is possible, you know.

I'll watch pretty much anything I can get access too, just like all the other times. This morning I watched team handball (France defeats Angola) and badminton (Poland defeats Estonia). Sports I wouldn't give the time of day to normally become fascinating once the Olympics come around. Like curling in the winter games. Curling! Yes I watch, enthralled. The Olympics are important, and so that imparts a similar importance to every event.

And I try to imagine what it must be like to be, not someone huge like LeBron James, who looked bored and inconvenienced last night, but an athlete from a small country with no realistic shot of medaling. I try to imagine being that person, and then actually doing it. I think that's what the Olympics are all about, it's why it's so exciting, and it's why I'll always happily watch -- even if what I'm watching is judo.

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