Thursday, August 2, 2012

Top Olympic Moments

I was really looking forward to watching the Olympics that are playing out right now.  I’ve been an Olympics fan ever since I started watching, back in 1972.  (While the ’72 Munich Olympics brought the stain of terrorism to the games, it also brought women’s gymnastics to the forefront, with Olga Korbut.)  I love to root for my country’s athletes, and failing that, the cutest available foreigner.

I’ve been watching these games every night, but somehow, something seems to be missing.  And I’m not even talking about them being pre-recorded.  I have to cut NBC some slack for the tape delay.  They didn’t shell out mega-bucks to land the broadcasting rights, just to run them on weekday afternoons.  (Granted, they should be broadcast live, over the weekends.)

What I’m saying is that I haven’t seen anything that really gets me excited.  Maybe it’s a Phelps hangover.  Or maybe the best storylines haven’t played out yet.  But it seems like there were so many huge moments in prior Olympics that these pale in comparison.

So I thought I’d dig back into my ancient, cobwebbed memory banks and come up with my favorite Olympic memories, for both summer and winter games.  These will appear in no particular order.

* The 1976 Olympics, both summer and winter, were what cemented the games into my consciousness and made them ‘can’t miss’ viewing.  The main reason was Nadia Comaneci.  Lordy, I had such a crush on Nadia… cute as a button with those smoldering dark eyes and flawless technique.  We were about the same age, so to me, that made her much more attainable.  I didn’t even care that she spoke no English.  I was sure that we could make our feelings known in any language.  All I needed was a lift to Montreal.

* One thing I miss about the more recent Olympic broadcasts is that boxing is banished to the side-channels.  In 1976, the USA had the most badass boxing team ever, winning 5 gold medals and featuring names like Sugar Ray Leonard, Leon and Michael Spinks, Howard Davis and more.

While most of the public attention was on Sugar Ray (for good reason), my favorite was Leon Spinks.  He had that huge gap in his mouth where front teeth used to be, and fought with a straight up style, his chin tucked down on his chest.  He wasn’t as polished as the European fighters, but he just destroyed whatever was put in front of him.

One of my favorite sports memories ever was the night Leon beat Muhammed Ali for the championship.  Was the first time in ages that I had seen Ali lose.  I watched the fight late at night, all by myself and celebrated wildly, but quietly, because Mom and Dad were upstairs asleep.

* The other 1976 event that sticks was in the Winter Games, watching an Austrian skier named Franz Klammer win skiing gold in the “downhill.”  I’ll never forget the sight of him flying down the mountain at 90 mph, barely under control, with arms and legs splaying out every which way.  I don’t know beans about skiing, but I never miss the Olympic downhill.  That’s some serious shit.

* I know it’s passé to talk about the 1992 US basketball ‘Dream Team,’ but at the time, I was 1000% behind them.  I remember the US getting famously robbed by the Russians (and the refs) in Olympic basketball in 1972, and then in 1988, finishing with a bronze.  What bugged me was that we were sending out college kids out to do battle with the full-grown, Olympic-experienced veterans of the rest of the world.  It was like playing with an arm tied behind our back.

At the time, the Russian, European and South American teams were their country’s de facto professionals.  So when the IOC evened the playing field in 1992, I thought it was about freakin’ time.  The Dream Team did not disappoint.  That was probably the best basketball team of all time, even with Larry Bird playing at about 30% due to back trouble.  No matter what LeBron says now, prime against prime, they couldn’t hold the ’92 team’s jocks.

* I always loved watching our star women’s gymnasts, from Mary Lou, to Shawn Johnson and everyone in between.  How can you not get caught up with those little iron-bodied pixies wearing ponytails and glitter?  But I’ve never seen a moment like the one when Kerri Strug had to hit that last vault after injuring her foot.

She knew it was going to be bad, but her coach said (erroneously, it turned out) that her team needed her to vault in order to secure the win.  So she got her leg wrapped, sprinted down that lane and hit a damned-near perfect jump, essentially on one leg, before collapsing onto the mat.  These gymnast chicks are tough!

* I love the track sprints, especially the 100 and 200 meters.  I never thought anyone would ever beat Michael Johnson’s time.  He was head and shoulders better than everyone he ran against.  He ran like Leon Spinks fought… straight up and down.

Then in the last games, Usain Bolt from Jamaica made Johnson look like a lumbering offensive lineman.  He broke records with ridiculous ease, even when pulling up to celebrate, before the race was even over.

I’ll also never forget Florence Griffin-Joyner, or “FloJo,” for short.  She was the first to bring style to the track.  With her long nails, flowing hair and flashy track suits, she became an instant star.  Plus, there was that “back.”  As my Dad said to me the day after she ran, “She’s got a butt that could pound nails.” 

It’s a tragedy that she passed on in 1998 at the age of 39.  But she set world records in the 100 and 200 meters that still stand today.

* I don’t follow soccer at all, except a little bit during the World Cup or Olympics.  But I really got into the US women’s soccer team when they won the World Cup in 1999 and Olympic gold in 2004 (and also 1996 and 2008).  Smokin’ hot jock chicks with iron thighs, flat tummies and unbelievable resilience and will to win?  What’s not to like?

* Speaking of smokin’ hot jock chicks, how can a red-blooded dude like me not enjoy watching the premier beach volleyball pairing of all time, Misty May and Kerri Walsh?  (I use their maiden names because I still pretend they’re not married, with children.)  And how can I not enjoy that they wear little tiny bikinis that floss their pancreas while playing?

I like volleyball in general because it’s something I used to be pretty good at when I was younger.  With some actual training, who knows?  (I would have looked considerably less good in the bikini though.)  But I know enough to know that what these women do out there is amazing, throwing their bodies all over the place to dig spiked balls out of the sand.

I especially like Kerri Walsh because she’s freakin’ 6’2”!  That’s about what I am, so we would be able to go eye-to-eye.  I dated a girl, once, that was 6’1” and that was the weirdest thing.  When you’ve spent your life looking downward towards the objects of your affection, it’s unnerving to suddenly have one right there at eye level.  But you get over it pretty quick!

* Michael Phelps gets a hell of a lot of play around Baltimore, as it’s his hometown and training center.  So I admit that there’s some overkill at play here.  Still, I was as thrilled as anyone over his eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics.  But my favorite one of all those was that 4 x 100 freestyle relay, where the US anchor guy, Jason Lezak came from a full body-length behind on the last stretch to juuuust out-touch the French swimmer at the wall.  It was an amazing display of teamwork, without which the Phelps saga would have been derailed at the 2nd event.

* I wrote about my feelings on the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament back when it was going on.  The US faced Canada for the gold medal and I was torn between rooting for the US or for my favored Pittsburgh Penguins who played for Canada.  Turned out that the US played well and forced overtime, but Penguin captain Sidney Crosby banked the winning goal on a brilliant play (and feed from Jerome Iginla).  I was so happy for my guy; I couldn’t be too broken up about the valiant US effort resulting in a silver medal.

* For me, all Olympic moments pale badly in comparison to the 1980 US hockey team… the one that beat the unbeatable Russians.  This was another example of our sending out our college kids to take on full-grown men… the best the world had to offer.

I remember watching that game in our living room with my brother and dad. (On tape-delay, as it were!  The game was played at 5:00 pm but ABC held it until prime time.  They tried to move playing the game to 8:00 but the Russian team refused.)  I remember when the Americans scored on a breakaway, right before the first period ended, thinking we just might have a shot.

Turns out we had more than “a shot,” as we out-hit and out-skated the best team in the world.  When Mike Eruzione wheeled around the slot area and fired that wrist shot off the wrong foot that beat the goalie and claimed the lead, we went absolutely berserk. 

But there was still 10 minutes left in the 3rd period, and watching it drain away in slow motion was excruciating.  But when as the clock ticked down the final 10 seconds and Al Michaels asked us if we believed in miracles, it felt like we were right there in the building, celebrating with the rest of a country that desperately needed a win.

Veteran ABC announcer, Jim McKay, said afterward that this upset was akin to the (recently crowned 4-time champion) Pittsburgh Steelers losing a game to a bunch of Canadian college students.  To this day, I still can’t watch film of that goal without choking up.  Brings tears to my eyes every single time and I don’t see that changing… ever.  I have a VHS tape of the entire game that I really ought to knock off onto DVD somehow, so that I can easily revisit the experience, long after VHS players become rarer than a sense of dignity on a dating reality show.

So what about you?  Do you have any particular Olympic moments that still stand out for you? 

18 comments:

  1. Gabby Douglas. Fearless. A hard sparkle gem of a gymnast.
    America can be proud of her. .

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    1. I HI haven't seen any of the day's results yet... Did The Flying Squirrel win the All-Around? That would be killer!

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  2. All I can say is holy shiza you have a good memory! The year Nadia landed perfect 10's is about the extent of memorable moments for me. Although you'd think I' d remember Canada defeating the US in hockey....being that I'm Canadian and all! Swiss cheese brain here. Thanka for the recap of some great Olympic moments.

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    1. I was just glad that Sid didn't get evicted from Canada. He needed the big moment.

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  3. So much to like about this post, starting with "I love to root for my country’s athletes, and failing that, the cutest available foreigner." True that, sir! For example, I will root for Maria Sharapova against Venus Williams or Serena Williams or any other American named Williams... with the possible exception of Hayley.

    My favorite Olympic memory dates back to the first Games I was really invested in: Barcelona '92. (And no, it has nothing to do with the Dream Team) I was a young lad immersing myself in all the sports knowledge I could get my hands on, and in the run-up to the games a lot of the magazines (esp. Sports Illustrated For Kids) focused on an American gymnast named Kim Zmeskal, who was the defending world champion and the odds-on favorite to win multiple gold medals (back when American gymnasts were still considered inferior to Russians). I thought she was super adorable with her long blonde pony tail, big blue eyes and tree trunk legs, lol. Unfortunately she broke her ankle or something and could barely stand up, let alone compete for gold. No Kerri Strug moment for her :( But even though she didn't win a damn thing I'll always remember that summer as the most fun I've ever had watching the Olympics - and supporting one athlete in particular.

    Your list has some (if not all) of the best Olympic moments in recent memory. I'm familiar with most of them - except Franz Klammer. The first great skier I can remember was an Italian named Alberto Tomba. Aside from ice hockey, most of my favorite sports are summer events. However the results are much more predictable IMO. Ever since my girl Kimmy lost in '92 it seems like the favorites always win exactly what they're supposed to. It's become difficult for me to strike a balance between my patriotism and my inherent connection to the underdog. Like Phelps, for example. I love the guy, but it's hard to root for someone who has 16 golds when no one else in the pool has more than one.

    Also, I think that the 24-hour news cycle and social media has sucked a lot of the fun out of the Games since I started watching. It's hard to block out everyone and everything that might give away the results, and unlike a good movie/book/TV show, no one has the courtesy to shout "spoiler alert!" before telling us who won what.

    I should end this here so that i can actually watch the Olympics instead of just commenting on them, lol. But I can't help it, your posts are always entertaining!

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    1. No sweat about not knowing Klammer... Were you even born in 1976? I'm just reaping the benefits of being an old fuck. Thanks for the generous comment.

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  4. Kerri Strug's vault wasn't even necessary? Ahahahahahahahaha.

    I tell myself I don't care about the Olympics at all. And then I see CNN the next morning and hear Soledad talk about how she stayed up all night to watch the first black chick win the all-around and get her hair made fun of on Twitter, and I'm like, "Aww, why was I watching 'Big Brother' instead?"

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    1. Why choose? I watched both.

      Sometimes, people really make me sick, with their petty, myopic bullshit. Tweet-holes...

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  5. I get chocked up everytime I watch any of them win a gold. doesn't even matter what country. I've been enjoying watching the parents during their childrens events.

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    1. How unreal must it be to see your kid win an Olympic medal? I'd be a hot mess.

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  6. You remember so much more than I did. I don't even remember the cute ones. Also, it's so much easier to admire the hot volleyball players on TV, because I'm NOT 6'2, so it's not quite the same looking up at them in real life, I don't think.

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    1. Of course I remember... I was one of the guys you allude to in today's post, staring at the TV going, "Oh yeah, you hit that volleyball just like 'daddy' likes it..."

      Every so often when I'm knocking around downtown Baltimore, I'll see a pack of large, athletic young girls clustered around a hotel or convention center entrance, which signals that there is a volleyball tournament in town. I'll be like, 'Look at that tall drink'o water...' But then check myself and put away the Perv Raincoat, because I then remember that these are high school or college kids. My parole officer says I have to leave that stuff alone.

      OK, OK, I'm obviously kidding. My parole officer doesn't give a shit what I do, as long as I show up on time...

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  7. You almost make me want to watch the Olympics... Almost. ;o)

    Hugs!

    Valerie

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    1. I know, I probably should have talked about more hot Olympic guys and put up some beefcake shots, but I can only speak from my own point of view. But I apologize for putting up Leon Spinks.

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  8. I remember watching the US Olympic basketball team lose to the Russians because of an error on the clock. I think this is why we started sending the pros.

    I love watching sports I would never give a crap about any other time: archery, bobsled/luge, speed skating, water polo, etc.

    Bruce Jenner winning the decathlon, before he turned into a woman and married into the Kardashians. I also remember Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton. And Zola Budd clipping the back of Mary Decker's shoe in the 3000m. Sugar Ray Leonard winning gold. Tape delay or life, I just enjoyed them more when I didn't already know the results ahead of time. It's almost impossible to keep that kind of media blackout today.

    And what I would have given to have seen Jesse Owens win the gold medal by beating the Aryans right there in front of Hitler in Berlin in 1936. Why hasn't someone made a movie out of that.

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    1. Yes, that was the ’72 Olympics that I mentioned. That may have started the clamor about using our pro basketballers, but it didn’t come to pass until ’92, after we only took bronze in ’88.

      Jenner was right there in the ’76 Games too… that was some big year, and was a fortuitous time for me to start paying attention to the Olympics.

      I think every kid is fascinated by the bobsled because it looks like so much fun.

      I’m right there with you, remembering all those names. Man, that Budd/Slaney fiasco was such a big deal... America’s running sweetheart knocked out of the race by some South African hussy.

      Jesse Owens should definitely be a movie. Heck, they could have worked it into an Indiana Jones movie…

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  9. As ambivalent as I am about sports, I have nevertheless been completely sucked into the London Olympics! Needless to say, The Guy is pleased. He'll watch anybody do anything as long as a ball is involved.

    So far, I have learned that handball is the dumbest sport on Earth, rowers like showing off their junk and I wish I was six and a half feet tall so I could play beach volleyball and have a body like Kerri Walsh-Jennings.

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    1. See, there are lessons to be learned everywhere!

      I’ve never watched handball before, but I figure it’s like racquetball without the racquet. Maybe it caught on in poorer nations where they couldn’t afford racquets, or flat boards or sticks.

      To be like Keri Walsh-Jennings, you’d have to sacrifice the tatas. They get caught in the net, you know.

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